Theology in the Light of Science

Vantage Point

In his excellent Easter editorial (“Christ Has Risen Indeed!” April 2011), Bob DeMoor asserts, “As believers we certainly have our differences. We can and may question and debate points of doctrine, biblical interpretation, morality, and mission—and still find ourselves firmly within the household of faith. But we may never deny the actually-happened, literally historical reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead. It is the heart of the gospel and of our faith.”

Has the marriage of Christian faith and scientific theories of the day always resulted in enhancing the vitality of the faith?

Although this viewpoint is surely not controversial in the CRC, it is in Protestantism generally, as the editorial recognizes. Many “liberal” mainline Protestant theologians see Jesus as no more than a great teacher or a revolutionary who died a martyr’s death. He “rose again” only in the sense that his Spirit lives on in the lives of his followers.

Other mainline Protestants reject this. They want to retain the heart of the historic Christian faith—that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification—but they have difficulty accepting the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. Following the lead of 20th-century German theologian Karl Barth, they distinguish between historie (literal historical events) and geschichte (the interpretation of an event presented as history). This distinction came to mean that certain events in the Bible, such as the creation of Adam and Eve, the virgin birth, or the resurrection of Christ, may not have actually happened in real history; what matters is the spiritual truth these events are intended to convey.

The obvious appeal of this approach is that we need not be concerned about scientific or archaeological discoveries that appear to conflict with Scripture. What if one day the bones of Jesus are definitely discovered, as was recently claimed? No matter. What does matter is the spiritual truth of his death and resurrection and the message of salvation from sin that these theological truths convey. (Note to Barth fans: I acknowledge the complexity of Barth’s thought and the centrality of the resurrection in his overall theology, but others who are identified with neo-orthodoxy, including Bonhoeffer and Bultmann, are much less ambiguous in their rejection of the “literally historical reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead.”)

Clarence Vos, a respected member of the Committee on Infallibility appointed by Synod 1959, takes the argument of that committee a step further, applying it to the present controversy surrounding the historical creation and fall of Adam and Eve (“How Should We Read the Bible?” November 2011). Vos adapts Abraham Kuyper’s helpful distinction that “the historiograpy of the Bible was not that of a camera but more like that of an artist’s brush.” Taking it far beyond what I would respectfully suggest Kuyper intended, Vos argues that an event may be “historical” without being “literal,” just as “Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Topsy’ was more historical than any living African American girl.”

It is true that a historical event may be described non-literally with poetic imagery, as in the Psalms, but this is entirely different from saying a fictitious figure is “historical” in the way Reformed theology has always understood the term. While it is correct to say that metaphor and parable are powerful means of conveying spiritual truth, these literary forms are usually quite identifiable as such.

Among his supporting arguments, Vos uses a pastor’s “indication of a clear symmetry in the Bible: the first chapters deal with the distant past, and the final chapters deal with the distant future. The pastor felt they should both be recognized as literature of a distinct type . . . to see that history is told in a different, probably more metaphorical way.” Interesting, but the Book of Revelation may not have been the last to be written, and there is nothing especially inspired about where it is placed in our Bibles. Besides, a number of Old Testament scholars who subscribe to biblical inerrancy (a term Vos and the Committee on Infallibility rejected as “not the most felicitous term” to use of Scripture), have had no difficulty recognizing poetic elements in the Genesis creation account without questioning its factual historicity.

The article ends with the expectation that as theology learns from the findings of science “however tentative they may be . . . in the end our Christian faith will be more vital than ever.” Perhaps, but surely this is not intended to mean that we should adjust our understanding of Scripture to the most tentative of scientific findings. Has the marriage of Christian faith and scientific theories of the day always resulted in enhancing the vitality of the faith?

In response to the current findings of the Human Genome Project, “which indicate strongly that the human race, as now constituted, did not descend from one human pair,” Vos clearly finds a rethinking of the historicity of Adam and Eve to be a biblically faithful way of interpreting the early chapters of Genesis.

It may seem a long way from there to denying the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, and I am not suggesting that any current CRC leaders are anywhere close to making that leap. But given the theological significance of the New Testament parallel between the first and second Adam (Christ) on which our entire salvation hangs, is it not an entirely possible, even logical (if distant) development?

About the Author

J. Cameron Fraser is a retired Christian Reformed pastor in Lethbridge, Alta., who now concentrates on writing as well as preaching.

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Comments

This was well said! With reference to "indicate strongly that human ancestors did not descend from a single pair", this is clear indication of speculation as well as being limited as to the possibilities of genetic markers on the human genome. This idea makes the evolution of man even at least ten thousand times less likely than the evolution of man from a single pair (it would be interesting for a statistician to calculate). The number of simultaneous spontaneous and random mutations which are still compatible all to happen at relatively similar period of time... it boggles the mind. It would take a lot of faith to believe this.

Amen.

Not to be critical but according to Genesis 4 there were quite a number of other folks living in the area shortly after Adam and Eve bore Cain and Abe. Who do you think Cain married in Genesis 4:17? And who was God protecting him from with the mark (Genesis 4:15)?

Scripture itself appears to argue against an overly restrictive interpretation of these events - socio-historical lens notwithstanding.

Science does not have to be a threat to our faith, but it can certainly inform how we might read certain passages in light of new archeological and historical evidence. Its what we do with the science that brings us closer or further from God.

@Michael-
He's not arguing that Genesis is strictly historical in the sense that a biography of...oh, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain might be.

Think of it this way... Uncle Tom was a historical figure, but one who didn't really exist. Frederick Douglas was a historical figure - who really existed.

If you're arguing that there was more going on than what got written in Genesis 1-11, I'm with you. It's obvious there was. If you're arguing that "Adam" is a historical metaphor in the same way that Uncle Tom was, instead of a historical figure the way Frederick Douglas was, then you've lost me.

"Has the CRC gone wild?"-apeman

Michael, maybe I missed it, but I don't think the age of Cain and Abel were identified when Cain murdered Abel. Nor was the age identified when Cain took a wife or had children. We are quite convinced that Adam and Eve had other children, and given that often the bible identifies that the age of child-bearing was older, such as Seth having a child at 105 yrs old, then it would not be difficult to see that Cain and Seth could easily have married sisters who may have been twenty or thirty years younger than them. Or have I missed something?

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?" I think that the primary phrase we all need to learn is, "I don't know." We may suspect that the universe and humanity where brought into existence in a certain way. Let's maintain a happy disagreement on those things but agree that, "In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible."

Hello Michael. Actually Genesis 4 does not say that there were a lot of people living on the earth shortly after Cain & Abel were born. We get confused or construct scenarios partly the way our English language interprets the original Hebrew, but also because of the way we think.
Look again at the text. According to Gen 4:3 Cain & Abel lived for some time before Abel was killed, possibly 100 years or more, since Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old (Gen 5:3) and Eve saw him as a replacement for Abel. (Gen 4:25) During that time there was plenty of time for other children of Adam & Eve to marry and have children. In Gen 5:4 we read that Adam & Eve had other sons & daughters. Obviously since there was only one man and one woman at the beginning, brothers would have married sisters at least at the start. As time went on, close relations could marry. It wasn’t until the time of Moses in Leviticus 18-20 that it was forbidden by God’s law for close relative could marry. The curse produce genetic “mistakes” which were more likely to be transferred to the children if close relatives married, but this was not a problem early on in history. This ends the confusion of who Cain married. Although it could have been a niece, it was more likely his sister. The word for wife used in Gen 4:17 is “Ishshah” which means woman/wife/female.
Look again about your other question “And who was God protecting him from with the mark? (Gen 4:15) Let me ask you this question. If the people Cain encountered knew nothing of his background in that he murdered his brother, why would he need to fear them. Rather, Cain was afraid of a close relative of Abel (and himself) who would want to exact revenge.
Also, “the land of Nod” simply means wandering in Hebrew. He wasn’t going to a place full of people, but he was literally going to the land of wandering.
Lastly, please don’t make the assumption that science and faith are at odds. Science is something you do. Nothing in God’s Word disagrees with science, it’s impossible. Science works because we have a God who established reason, order & laws of nature. It’s when we come to conclusions based on incorrect assumptions that the presumed conflict arises. This is especially true in the realm of historical science. Unlike operational science, the past cannot be observed or tested. We all bring our presuppositions to the table. Make sure your presuppositions are correct if you want the correct results.

Hello Jon, Eric and Arnold.

Thanks for your input on the creation story. I have to be honest. As a highly educated Christian who reads quite widely, I have a great deal of trouble with a literal interpretation of the creation story (the earth created in 7 days, a literal Adam & Eve and so forth). If I think of the audience of the day (basically wandering desret nomads) a more methaphorical interpretation seems more likely. Though tempting, I don't see why its necessary to overlook the vast archeological, genomic, geological, evolutionary,and paleontological evidence that argues for a much older earth than that presented in the Bible.

To me the main message of Genesis is clear - God was (is) in charge of creation. Period. This does NOT mean I don't believe in Jesus, or that I would conclude that he was not a real historical figure. Jesus clearly was alive and present, died on the cross and rose again from the dead. There is no evidence to contradict this. There is however, a great deal of evidence that contradicts Creationism.

Michael, it is a bit ironic to me, that you don't seem to look at the evidence presented even in this short discussion. You postulated that there must have been lots of other people because Cain and Seth married someone. This seemed to be your evidence, do you agree? Yet, when presented with the rationale that fits in perfectly with scripture, that Cain and Seth married sisters or nieces, I am not sure that fact sunk in. Did it? Do you accept that possibility, based on the information we have from scripture?

Your other rationale seems to be that because the audience was desert nomads, that the Genesis must have been allegorical. Is that really a logical conclusion, or is that just wishing it were so?

As far as geological, genomic, paleontological evidence seeming to lead to a necessity for evolution or old age... well possibly, but not necessarily. Evidence must always be interpreted; it does not speak all by itself.

Hi John. What I had hoped to point out in the original post was that Scripture may not be as clear cut as read at first glance. Even if we play with the numbers, it still doesn't square with a genomic code that overlaps 99% with the chimps, the presence (and loss) of the dinosaurs, the age of the universe, genetic mapping that is currently occuring and so forth. Personally, I find none of this a threat to my faith. If anything, it increases my appreciation of how complex this world is, and how powerful the One that created (and is creating it) actually is.
Peace.

Michael, in your December 15th post, you pull out your Ace card and inform us that you are “highly educated” and someone “who reads quite widely.” (Did someone perhaps accuse you of being an uneducated wandering nomad?) I suppose this is designed to quiet those who believe in the creation of the world, the universe and all it contains as it was written in Genesis.
You state that you have a great deal of trouble with a literal interpretation of the creation story (the earth created in 7 days, a literal Adam & Eve and so forth). Why do you suppose that is? It’s not because the text is so difficult or that it is written in allegorical language. Few would go so far as to suggest that the text is not written in historical narrative and clearly describes a literal 6 day 24 hour creation, with a literal Adam, a literal Eve, a literal garden and so on. Rather, the only way someone would have trouble with believing the text as it was written is because of outside influences. You vaguely mention a few alleged evidences, but then fail to give even one example for any of them. This is classic elephant hurling. There are no evidences that the world is millions or billions of years old or that life evolved onward & upward over vast ages or that man is descended from an ape like creature. There are however theories, speculations, wishes, etc., all which depend on assumptions about the past for which we cannot go back and observe. However Someone who was there wrote it down for us.
You go on to say that the clear message of Genesis is that God was and is in charge of creation, period. Really, that’s it? Are you suggesting that Genesis does not speak to us about how God created the world perfect, and that He created man in His image, that Adam & Eve sinned and brought the curse not only on themselves and their seed, but on the entire world? Are you telling me that God did not immediately come to Adam & Eve even though they hid from Him, and lay out His plan of salvation so that we could be right with Him again? Are all the genealogies just written down so that we can have fun trying to pronounce all those strange names? Is the history of the flood of Noah’s day just folklore or an allegorical story that contains some deep truths? Obviously you can’t believe it the worldwide flood of Noah’s day if you accept millions of years. And what do we make of Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel? Maybe we could just start with Genesis 12 and the call of Abram. That seems a bit easier to understand. Oh but then what do we do when we come to other areas that are difficult to understand?
You go on to say that you believe that Jesus was a historical figure and that He lived, died on a cross and rose again. I’m glad you believe that and I will assume that you believe that he died in our place to pay the penalty we deserve so that we can be made righteous before God. However, unsuspectingly you’ve removed the reason He had to become a human being and take our place in judgement.
Lastly you once again, throw out a sweeping generalization saying that there is a great deal of evidence against what you call creationism, without giving even one example. You need to rethink your position.

Michael your statement in your December 19th post regarding the 99% genetic “overlap” of humans with chimps is quite misleading and I would suggest you have been mislead in this area. There is much material available such as http://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j19_3/j19_3_4-5.pdf or
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v3/n1/tale-of-two-chromosomes
I’m not sure what you mean by the presence (and loss) of the dinosaurs. Do you think that creationists or creation scientists don’t believe in dinosaurs? Are you suggesting they pose a problem for us to explain? Without some detail it’s hard to address that statement. Many a species has lived and gone extinct over the course of the world’s history. When you refer to the age of the universe, I have to assume that you are suggesting that the universe is billions of years old. As a matter of fact this is hardly something which is undisputed. Often the problem of distant starlight is cited as proof that the universe is billions of years old, but the big bang also has light travel problems of its own. There is also much evidence of a young universe.
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/does-starlight-prove
Lastly, I wonder how a belief in a universe that is millions of years old coupled with an evolutionary worldview would increase your appreciation of the complexity of the world and the power of our God and Creator. Would it be more awesome if God by means of evolution created a world where through millions of years of death, disease, struggle, and chance, we came to be? God would then become the originator of sin and since man wasn’t the cause of sin, we would also not require a Saviour. What did God mean when He said “it was very good?”
Did He mean that He finally got it right? Can you not look at the world and our universe and in awe give praise to the One who spoke it all into being? Even though it shows the effects of the curse we can see incredible beauty in all that He created and with the advances in scientific discovery we see more & more of the power and creative mind of our God. Sadly in our secular world, little praise is directed toward Him and most of it is attributed to man.
I would like to make one last point. In your last post, you describe the Israelites as “wandering desert nomads,” presumably implying that they would have lacked the intellect to understand any information given to them that wasn’t in the most simplistic form. Archaeological discoveries support the fact that there was a high level of intelligence long before the exodus of the Israelites? Read what some of the early descendants of Adam & Eve were able to achieve. In the land of Ur, where Abram is introduced, there are evidence of a high level of medical practices and written medical books. Look at the accomplishments in the area of construction that we have evidence of. I think it’s quite smug to suggest that these people would not have the mental capacity to understand what God was saying. Besides, it doesn’t really matter what you or I think He said, what matters is what He did say. If we don’t understand it all, isn’t surprising at all.
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/utp/a-correct-chronology
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/does-archaeology-support-th...

What has troubled me for some time is that it seems that many of the watchmen on the supposed intellectual watchtowers of Zion have seemed to expend most of their energies and gaze inwardly, critiquing rather than defending the "faith once delivered."

In light of the above and this discussion, supposing that the universe is billions of years old and that Darwin's principle of natural selection allowed for unlimited (?) adaptation of species even in extremely harsh conditions, I would like to turn Kruchev's question of Gagarin on its head.

Kruchev was alleged to have asked Gagarin when he returned from the first trip in space, whether he saw "God out there?" A negative response elicited the triumphant conclusion that God wasn't there.

Turning that on its head, my question is: if natural selection is so universal and so powerful, why have we yet to find signs of intelligent life on the many planets, solar systems we have tried to contact?

Natural selection should guarantee that some form of life could evolve out of the primordial ooze even in the harshest environment and at some point be capable of responding to our inquiries as to their existence.

This to me seems to be an increasing problem for atheistic evolutionists (one supposes theistic evolutionists could explain the "exceptionalism" for planet Earth).

Michael, your Dec 19 comment is apparently incorrect. I understand that there is about 12% difference in length of genomes, and somewhere between an additional 4-7% difference in what remains. We should be careful also to assume that similarities are an indicator of common ancestors. While similar dna segments may indicate similar types of functions, this does not by itself imply common ancestorship between species anymore than the fact that we are all made of the same basic organic compounds with plants and micro-organisms. Creationists would argue that a similar dna structure would imply the same designer, rather than an accidental random evolution.

The loss of species does not prove evolution; it only proves the loss of species. Now, if we were to see dinosaurs re-appearing/re-developing from existing reptiles... maybe. But the lack of evidence of evolution is overwhelming. If evolution were true, we would expect to see transitions and changes overwhelming species stability. But it seems that species stability overwhelms potential changes.

Michael, here is a link to a critique of radiometric dating methods. It does not claim to have all the answers, but does put into perspective the faith that scientists have put into these methods. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGB-PfFSV2w&list=PLB228C26CBD74D87B&index...
That faith may be somewhat misplaced.

Michael, here is a link to a better explanation of microbial mutations and why they are not indications of evolution. youtube.com/watch?v=dFb01D7Ya2k&feature=autoplay&list=PLB228C26CBD74D87B&lf=plpp_video&playnext=1

Hi John, Arnold and others;

A happy new year to you. With this post, I didn't really want to get into a debate over the details of evolution vs. creationism. When entire university departments are set up to study evolution, in my mind its a pretty settled issue that the science is pretty clear on this subject (despite your statements to the contrary). I am not a geneticist and won't pretend to be. Though I have a basic understanding of genetics and DNA, most of this info is pretty dense and not that accessible to the layperson.

What I was trying to say is that I don't see any of this as a threat to my faith. And what I worry about is that when Christians expend a lot of energy defending subjects that appear arcane to much of the rest of the educated world, we create a false divide that you have to check your brains at the door when you enter the organized church. This is something I completely reject.

The younger generation is leaving the churches in droves because in my opinion, it is largely because we get caught up in subjects like these, when there are much larger issues that deserve our attention (like the increasing discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the rampant increase in consumerism and materialism, the exploitation of migrant workers, etc.). Sorry to be blunt, but that is how I see it.

Being blunt is good, Michael. I like it! You don't want to discuss the actual theories of evolution; you just want to accept them. That's pretty blunt. And not uncommon.

But you should be aware that entire university/seminary departments are also set up to study theology and affirm things that are also apparently contrary to evolution; so in that sense, you must choose whom you will serve.

Yes, some of this information is pretty dense and complicated, but in that case it would probably be better to claim ignorance rather than belief? Or, if it is too complicated to understand, then indeed it is a matter of belief and faith to accept this theory isn't it?

I must admit, that to worry about what the world thinks is arcane, is not something that bothers me. That's their problem, not mine. I am not too worried about trying to gain the approval of "the world" as if somehow they have a better worldview than I, or they have a bigger window to the "truth". In fact, from a scientific dialectical point of view, it is always the common perspective of the "world" that should be challenged or at least examined and critiqued.

Evolutionary theory may not be a threat to your faith. But the raw unvarnished theory has threatened the faith of many. And it is a falsehood to suggest that Christians check their brains at the church door. It seems to me, based on some of the arguments I have seen, that it is evolutionists who are checking in their brains at the door when they do not question their faith in evolution.

The younger people largely leave the church IMHO when they do not see the relevance of the church for their daily lives, whether it is in education, lifestyle, science, or the workplace. Saying that evolution is not relevant to faith is exactly part of that problem. There, I tried to be blunt as well. Have a Great and Godly New Year!

@John. A happy new year to you as well! It appears we are going to "agree to disagree" and perhaps thats for the best. You are right - I am really not all that interested in changing my views on this.

However, I do reject your "all or none" reasoning around this. I serve God and use science to understand His world. It's not an either-or choice to serve one or the other. From my perspective, science is set up to answer different questions than faith, as it operates based on different premises of existence. Science describes how things happen; faith tells me the why and is more focused on deeper questions of purpose and meaning.

I respect your passion for the subject but do want to pass along a word of caution - in your zeal to defend your perspective on this, you may inadvertantely turn some against the church and Christianity. That is my only real worry with this kind of conversation. And in that, it sounds like our fears are the same.

God bless and thanks for your honesty.

"For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." II Tim 1:7

Isaiah 11:2 "The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--"

John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Respectfully, to Michael, schools and universities have entire departments devoted to gay & lesbian studies, also. This in no way "proves" that this realm is now unquestionable or supersedes the Bible and the teaching of Christ for Christians. (just one example, of course)

Throughout the past several months, the Banner has published some highly questionable opinions, generally insulting "fundamentalist, evangelical, Bible-believers" as ignorant, unscientific, and "too old-fashioned" & conservative (as a political pejorative) to understand the myriad "newly" established and settled areas of study - evolution, earth worship, economic justice, etc.

Isn't it interesting that the points of view promoted by this publication of a Christian denomination are recently not those of the group who believes that the Bible is true, and the inspired, Holy Spirit breathed word of God?

I want to address this quote of Michael:
"The younger generation is leaving the churches in droves because in my opinion, it is largely because we get caught up in subjects like these, when there are much larger issues that deserve our attention (like the increasing discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the rampant increase in consumerism and materialism, the exploitation of migrant workers, etc.)."

Is it true, first of all, that "the church" is "losing the younger generation in droves?" Keep in mind that the population of this church (CRC), is getting older, and the traditionally large Dutch families are getting smaller as younger people have fewer children. And is the church losing whole families, which includes small children, thereby raising the average age of congregations? Another factor could be that in this generation, membership is less of a priority, thereby giving a decreased number.

Let's say it is true that "droves" of young people are leaving the church. Are you sure that it is because the church isn't inserting 'enough' non-salvation elements into their mission? As one of the fore-mentioned "fundamentalists," I would submit to you that the problem is that people are looking for a church to minister to them spiritually, and will not stay in a congregation or denomination who is moving towards a theology of things "(like the increasing discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the rampant increase in consumerism and materialism, the exploitation of migrant workers, etc.)," not to mention global warming, evolution and the mythology of the Bible.

Reading the article "How to Read the Bible" in last month's Banner, and this article here, would give a non-believer (or/especially a believer) seeking a church home the impression that the CRC doesn't "really" believe the Bible anyway (or at least is looking for a good way to discount the necessity of belief), so why choose them (us)?

Please accept this correction to my post below. In the last paragraph, the sentence should include the word NOT

...Reading the article "How to Read the Bible" in last month's Banner, and NOT this article here, ....

Sorry about that. It does change what I meant to say.

There is an excellent site which carries this science and faith dialogue in much greater detail and has been very helpful. The Blog is excellent and offers much fruitful discussion:

http://biologos.org/

Hi Jennifer. Sorry you feel attacked - my comments were not meant in that way.

However, I would encourage you to ask the young people who have left the church why they have left. I have yet to hear one tell me that is was because we weren't serious enough about the Scriptures. Most of the ones I have talked to have left because they feel the church is increasingly disconnected from the world they engage everyday at work, in their education and in their social life.

@ Sue - a very intriguing website that I must say I quite enjoyed reading. Thanks for sharing this.

Biologos seems to be an apologetics for evolution, attempting to synthesize it with creation by God. It will not be of great assistance for those who believe that evolutionary theory is non-scientific. Biologos, at least the speakers I viewed, merely seems to assume and accept evolution, rather than question it. The so-called "fruitful" discussion seems to be primarily about the assumptions of evolution, and how our reading of scripture must change to fit the theory. It makes the same incorrect assumption also about a tension between science and evolution, while the real tension is between evolution and faith, not between science and faith.

Michael said earlier that:

" ... the increasing discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the rampant increase in consumerism and materialism, the exploitation of migrant workers, etc." is more important than the theory of evolution to discuss.

I would suggest that if the theory of evolution is accepted, then these other topics are no longer that important. These other things are then merely natural outcomes of an evolutionary process. If we are merely products of evolution, then why would we fight against the very process that created us?

If God created the evolutionary process, then we still must answer the question as to how God stopped this process, or interfered with it to create humans who should or would contest against the natural outcomes of evolution, such as "rich people and poor people", or "materialistism and consumerism approaches", and "exploitation of others".

So the discussion of evolution is a basic discussion that provides a foundation for our perspective on rich vs poor, exploitation, and materialism. Evolution basically leaves the impression that there is no such thing as good vs evil, no such thing as sin; rather, whatever happens, just happens. It just is. We just adapt to our circumstances, and the bribery or terrorism or murder in some countries is not necessarily bad; its just another adaptation. It's the way God made us. Is that what you want to believe?

John,

You mention the "so-called fruitful discussion" on Biologos. The Biologos site has been very helpful to people like myself who have a hard time reconciling what we learnt in the University chemistry/biology/geology etc class with the loud voices of the Creationist camp (Ken Ham being one example) Unfortunately they often force an unnecessary choice between the Creationist interpretation of the origins of life or being an unbeliever.

As Francis Collins writes in his book The Language of God, "Young people brought up in homes and churches that insist on Creationism sooner or later encounter the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of an ancient universe and the process of evolution and natural selection.

I am thankful for organizations like Biologos as the spiritual speed-wobble that ensued at university was a time of growth as opposed to an abandonment of Faith.

The parallels between the first and second Adam need not prove or disprove each other’s historical reality. God oversaw all of time and over the writing of what He desired to be written. Whether the Bible would be “historie” or “geschichte” or “truthful myth” or a mix, was up to the ‘Author of salvation’ to determine. I believe the parallels’ focus is for our understanding of Jesus/God; and how it points to him can never discredit the truth of our LORD and our Saviour.

Sue, I have said before that I admire those who try to synthesize their faith with the theory of evolution. They are defending their faith in God. But that does not mean that I think they are right to accept the evolutionary theory the way they do. The evidence for evolution is based on conjecture, not on proof. Evolutionists often assume that natural selection is evolution, but it is not. Often mutations are cited as proof for evolution, but just because there are thousands of mutations does not mean they are proof of macro-evolution. Conjecture is what is used to connect these dots, but conjecture is not proof.

Recently I have become aware that even the evidence for an old earth/universe is not as conclusive as we are led to believe. For example, there are problems with radioactive decay dating methods, mostly because of the starting assumptions.

All christians must by definition still believe in original creation (even if they assume God created thru the process of evolution). And they must by definition also assume at least a special spiritual creation and redemption of mankind. So for Christians(who accept evolution), it is never purely a struggle between creationists and evolutionists, since they would be both.

However, just because you have been taught evolution all your life, doesn't make it necessarily true, no more than the fact that all russian youth were taught for 50 years that communism was utopia, and that God did not exist.

Examine the evidence closely, and I believe you will discover that the theory of evolution is like the story of the emperor with no clothes on.

David, you are making some assertions without demonstrating that these assertions are logically true. You need to explain how drawing a parallel between Jesus and an imaginary "Adam" can work. An Adam who was never created good, who never fell into sin, and never was asked by God to name the animals, and who never was kicked out of the garden, and who never was given the promise of the messiah, would lead to what kind of a parallel? what kind of comparison? Why would a parallel of this imaginary type not lead to the conclusion that Christ was also imaginary, or imperfect, or just one "messiah" of many?

John Zylstra, if Adam was a complete myth he would stand as a 'parable' to Jesus. In much the same way Jesus' parables never happened, but were stories to illustrate something true, something that happens [happened]; a 'parallel' of ideas, (from sower's seed story paralleled to how real people receive the word of God, for real reasons.)

David, you didn't answer my last question.

Jesus parables worked and the prophet Nathan's parable worked because they were believable. For example, when a farmer sowed seed, it was conceivable and realistic, that seed actually fell into those different places. It was believable that seed that fell on hard, stony ground simply would not grow, because that is what people observed to happen. If seed that fell on stony ground grew just as good as in soft loamy soil, then that story would not have worked as a parable.

So you have to answer my last question.

John, it is also believable that Adam was...created good, who...fell into sin, and...was asked by God to name the animals, and who...was kicked out of the garden, and who...was given the promise of the messiah." - J. Zylstra, January 10, 2012. [admittedly a direct misquote]
John, do you personally believe that the Genesis creation actually happened?... if so, you know it is believable.

David, I know the Genesis story is true and therefore I believe it. Obviously. But the problem is for those who do not believe it to be true nor possible. They would say that man was not created good and could not have been created good, but evolved. They would say that man did not "fall" into sin, and that as a result, man does not have a sinful nature, but just a natural nature. What follows from that is that they cannot really believe that man needs redemption, since man is not by nature deserving of wrath. And they would also say that since Adam and Eve never really existed, then they never received the promise of a messiah either (how could they?)

But you are not answering the question. Let me rephrase it. If Adam was imaginary and non-existant, then drawing a parallel between Jesus and Adam, would mean that Jesus was imaginary and non-existant. The scriptural parallel is that as the first man Adam caused the whole human race to be inclined to sin, and complicit in disobedience to God, so Christ (the second Adam) brings redemption to all of mankind(those who believe). This scriptural parallel or comparison does not work real well if Adam did not actually cause the entire human race to be inclined to sin(sinful nature).

John, thank you for taking the time to rephrase it.

I will agree that there is no reason why Genesis could not be completely factual history; however, our idea of what is "a fact" then comes into question.

I believe you put to much importance on the full accuracy of the history of the Bible, Old or New T.

Consider the historical reality of Jesus. His story told to us is in four Gospels, to different original audiences, with stories that are inconsistent from a historical view, or at the very least shifted in time, a historical inaccuracy. I would say that it is not the historical accuracy of the whole that matters but instead the truth of the pieces.

Don't consider if Adam was imaginary, but rather consider if he actually spoke in poetry when he saw the woman. Whether this event is historical is unimportant compared to the emotional response it evokes of such 'goodness'. Adam recognized the 'very good' and that idea is communicated there.

[a Thank You note, because of this discuss I have considered many new things.]

David, the way you write sounds like another person I know... real name? Anyway, the example of the Gospels: what is significant is how much they tell the same story (not different stories). That is amazing! When they relate historical events, it seems we can piece them together with the other gospels. When they relate teachings, then the actual time when the teachings were given is not so significant since these teachings could have been given and repeated many times.

Was just reading the gospels about the prayer in Gethsemene. Only John gives the prayer Jesus made in the upper room after the Last Supper, while it omits the prayer made by Jesus in the Garden of gethsemene. But that is no contradiction, just a different emphasis. From a historical event continuity perspective, they can be fit together.

I would say that the historicity of the event is more significant than the emotional response. Why? Because if the event is fictional and imaginary, then the emotional response is not justified. It's like being angry at your children for something they did not do.

You are right John, and I was surprised to find that many of the so-called ‘discrepancies’ can be attributed to a repetition of teachings and actions; however, certain major and non-repeatable events are in different orders between the Gospels.

Between Gospels Matthew and Luke: To place them both at a fixed point to compare the timelines I will use the “calming of the storm” because it is a major event that surprises the disciples, as in it amazed them that Jesus was able to calm a storm, pointing to it being the first time it had happened. (Matt. 8:23-27, Luke 8:22-25)

After calming the storm, later in Matthew we are told that John the Baptist sent the message, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3) to Jesus, to which he replied, “Go back and report ...~… on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6) However, in Luke this message has already been sent and replied too. Luke 7:19 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” and Luke 7:22-23 “Go back and report…~… on account of me.” So here the timelines are different.

Also, the calling of Matthew/Levi: In Matthew it is (at 9:9) after the storm, but in Luke (5:27-28) it comes before the storm.

If the Bible is not directly historically accurate the individual parts could still be accurate, and trustworthy, even if it is sewn together by an artist's hand.

David, interesting points you made. Reading these accounts closer made me think that Luke seems often to be telling "One day..." stories, not necessarily placed in chronological sequence in every instance.

The main point is that the apparent historical chronological contradictions do not imply that the events never happened, or that they could not happen, or that the gospels contradict each other in intent or essence. This is different than using the idea of historical inadequecies as a sort of presumption or justification for changing the real intent of a particular story, or the for changing the reality of a recorded event. Nor is it justification for changing the historical chronology of an event without an inherent need to do so. The phrase in Genesis: "In the beginning..." and "... the morning and evening of the sixth day..." seems to be intentionally and considerably more precise than "One day..."

The issue seems to be between ideas about the accuracy of art, and ideas about the emotional content of historical text. As an artist, I know the truth and accuracy art can display, and you seem to know the love and emotion the historicity of the text can display.

If it is only about precision, consider the (second) account of the creation story. It jumps from the 3rd day, “there was not yet any vegetation on the earth…” to the 6th day, “made man” and “made a woman” (Gen 2:5-22). And what about Genesis 2:24? An apparent interjection into the story about marriage, and mentions earthly mothers and fathers, (of which none yet exist). Is this pure history, or is this more than that?
I would say Genesis 2 is an artistic and intimate way to show LORD God’s caring heart for people. It is accurate, but more like art with a purpose than just history.

I love your questions, David! Have you ever considered that Genesis 2 does not jump from the third day to the sixth day. What it really says, is that there was no shrub of the field, and no plant of the field. In the context, it is talking about domesticated plants, crops. Not talking about vegetation in general. If man did not work the fields and seed crops, we might have the odd wheat plant here and there, but we would have no crops as such, no cultivated vineyards or orchards. That's why the phrase "of the field" is used, I believe.

Verse 24 simply explains the impact or long-term result of the historical creation of man and woman, and of how they were historically created (from one flesh). Of course these chapters are more than merely history. They are significant for the future. Their significance for the future does not make them less historical. In fact, the less historical they are, the less significant they also are for the future.

Your frequent allusions to art vs historical text is perhaps a false dichotomy. A historical text can be written in a very artistic manner. Art does not need to be false, in order to be art. Not all art is VanGogh. Some of it is Rembrandt. Some of it is Robert Bateman. (And my wife likes to paint... mostly realism.) Nor can "art" be used as an excuse for confusion or deception. Then it will simply be art with a false heart.

I am not convinced about the “of the field” meaning domesticated, since in Gen 2:19 it says “... LORD God formed out of the ground all the beast ‘of the field’ and all the birds of the air… He brought them to the man to see what he would name them.” This would raise the question, “Only the livestock, but all of the birds?” … Possible.

How do you draw the line between history and art in regards to the Bible?

My bible says, "had formed" all the beasts and birds. Gen.2:19.

I sense you suggesting that if Gen. 2 was not in historical chronological sequence, that somehow proves something about Genesis 1? It seems to me that Genesis 1 talks about sequence, while Genesis 2 (after verse 3) talks about the creation of man and how he fit in. The garden had already been planted before man was created. The animals were already there. The shrubs and crops of the fields were not yet there in the way they would be later, since it clearly says that man was not yet farming to grow them. And it had not yet rained.

How to draw the line between history and art? Depends on how you define art. The art of writing is necessary for the description, recording and depicting of history. Historical novels are fiction, but attempt to accurately portray events as possible within a particular historical context, and often include actual historical characters(usually periferally) within the plot.

The bible is not a historical novel. It is actual history, even while it includes many literary devices such as parables and poetry. And even though it is actual history, it is not the purpose of scripture to merely be an impartial recording of past events. It has the purpose of revealing God to us.

Maybe you should give a definition of art.

John, how do you know the difference between the Bible's "literary devices" and the "facts"? What if something you took as history was actually a metaphor or allegory?

Art is an expression of self (or selves) for the purpose of experience or communication.
Art is also the appreciation of occurrences.

Eg.1: If I cut down a tree, it is work. If I think, “I want to tell the world I hate trees”, so I cut down a tree, it is art. If I see someone working at cutting down a tree, and I think, “This is amazing” the experience and the action become art.

Eg2: If I create the world, it is work. If I think, “I want to Love” so I create the world, it is art. If I am told about someone creating the world for Love, and I think, “This is amazing” the experience continues as art. If what I was told was allegory, the idea remains and continues as art. If what I was told was false, then there was no real idea, and no real art.
That is to say, if God never created anything then our faith is invalid; however, if it turns out that God meant ‘eons’ instead of days, but wanted to give us days; morning and evenings; and things to record time by, He may have told Moses ‘day’, to ‘communicate the idea’ (art) rather than communicate facts.

Yes, if you could agree that Gen. 2 was less historical and maybe something more, then you may be able to see how other parts like Gen.1 may be more like a story about God and creation, then only facts. I pursue this to put the focus on what the people of the time were culturally paying attention too, namely the personal relationships rather than the information, as Vos mentions (sixth paragraph: http://www.thebanner.org/features/article/?id=3733). I believe this is important to understand the scriptures fully, and to encounter the heart of the message. If the Bible is only history than it is only a matter of understanding the facts truly. If the Bible is an artistic elaboration on history than the matter is grasping the idea expressed through the facts, allegories, poems, metaphors and imagery. (See the top of this comment for main point.)

David,

I agree much with what both you and John are both saying and I do not hold to a literal six days of creation since in early times the knock on the creation story was that God did not create everything instantaneously. Robert Lethem has written a nice piece on the “Days of Creation.”

However, I do have issues with ignoring a literal Adam given what Paul has written about Christ being the second Adam. I would also say we have to make some mental jumps around Jesus response to the Pharisees in Matt. 23:35 since he makes reference to Abel’s blood of martyrdom. I am assuming and I think most would agree or understand that he is referring to the death of Adam’s son Abel and not some other figure in history. Was Jesus only quoting accepted folklore? I assume he was not since he appeared to be making a point and not telling a parable.

David, Nah, art can be work too. And work can be amazing, can be an art, and still be work. I don't buy your distinction. But not sure it matters. it's not about whether genesis is history or art. It's about whether it is clear to us, whether it makes sense, whether it actually describes anything useful to us.

I don't think you grasped what I said before; that it takes the art of writing to write history. History is not divorced from art, just as art is not divorced from work. But I agree that art can be as false as a dry unemotional depiction of a historical event.

I am having a discussion with a Bahai person, who insists that Jesus resurrection is merely symbolic; it didn't really happen, but simply means that Jesus resurrected in Spirit, as the Spirit of God. The gospel writers were deceived, and Paul wrote with an imperfect mind, and all christians misunderstand the scriptures, says this person. You see, when we use the artistic, symbolic approach to justify our own desire to have the bible say something we want it to say, then we cannot justify limiting it only to those things we want to limit it to.

The issue is not whether Genesis was written artistically or historically. The issue is whether Genesis 1 makes sense either way. So, in art, what we see or hear must mean something or represent something. What does the morning and evening represent, in the context of evolution? What do six days represent, as opposed to seven or ten or twelve days or 1000 days or 1000 years? Why would the artist pick six days? What does the separation of the earth and water represent? It seems rather realistic, but apparently if it is art, it must represent something. What is that? In the context of evolution, everthing was evolving at the same time, not separately in different time periods. So what does the separate identification of sea creatures, plants, birds, and land animals represent, since they are not real? And, if evolution is really true, then how can everything be finished on the sixth day, how can be resting, if things are still evolving? What is the meaning of rest, then, from an artistic perspective? Is this rest merely symbolic? symbolic of what?

I agree with you that art can be false. If Genesis 1 is art, then why is it not false art?

Steve, re-read that whole section of Matthew 23, and consider the smell of poor, and the robes and clothing of the Pharisees as you read it.

John, please answer my last main point.

Also, John, art is “work + the idea”. The Bahai person stands in conflict with direct scriptures, and then calls the writers liars and fools. For the Bahai they believe that God has sent many messengers, (Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad…etc.) However, according to Muhammad, Jesus was never crucified, but according to Jesus it was THE mission. Bahai is in conflict with its own beliefs.

Morning and evening could rep that God created time at the very beginning and we were to recognize it by the mornings and evenings to count out our days. He has set up how we could recognize which day was holy, and to enter rest at appropriate times and enjoy it.
(I do not know why you threw in ‘evolution’ here.)
God also set up different numbers to have meaning, like 12, and 40. Seven often represents completeness, perfection.
For the people of the time water was a symbol and idea of death, or ‘where the dead go’, the deep, or Sheol. Therefore, to separate the place God would make man from, (the earth), from water (death and fear), it could represent that God wanted man to live unafraid of death.
The separation of the different animal types could represent that each thing had a place, which is the heart of “Shalom. Shalom can mean “completeness, contentment, peace.”
Also, creation could be seen as a staging area moving away from chaos to order, and building up to making man and woman, and then giving creation over to them.

Stopping a painting is as important as starting it. Rest is the recognition of completeness. There was a good goal, and God finished it, and signified it by resting.

If Genesis was art, and the idea was “God is Love”, it would be false art if God was not Love, or if creation was a hateful act. Since God is Love, and creation was not a hateful action, the art remains a true expression.

David VD I'm assuming your main point is how do we know the difference between literary devices and “facts”and what if perceived history was actually metaphor/allegory. I guess I thought that was what this whole discussion was about. I believe that for a metaphor to work, it must be “real”. A metaphor just doesn’t really work for me if it is fable or fairytale. You could use it, but it wouldn’t speak to me. For example, kissing a princess to wake her up from a poison apple, just doesn’t work as a metaphor for me in daily life. So I believe there are some metaphorical implications from genesis, but I also believe that does not remove the reality or the “facts” in Genesis 1. What I mean is that the facts of Genesis 1, can be used as metaphor/example for other things, ie. just as God worked for six days and rested on the seventh, so should we.

You mention that God gave special meaning to some numbers. That seven represents completeness. But I believe that the reason seven means completeness is because God had completed creation within seven days, and thus rested on the seventh day. I do not believe it works backwards, so that God created in six days and rested the seventh, because he was constrained by the meaning of the number seven. I don’t believe that the number seven meant anything until the creation week was finished. Thus, for this discussion of art vs history, it is rather irrelevant.

I totally agree that the Bahai is in conflict with scriptures. But they do not see themselves that way, because they interpret everything, including christ’s resurrection, symbolically (as art). That’s my point.

I appreciate your attempt to find representations from the genesis story such as about the days, and water and earth, but it just doesn’t work for me. It is simply too contrived, and there is no real basis for it, only speculation, and nothing to verify such an interpretation. Also, there are so many details in the genesis story which do not correlate to anything in your explanation. Your idea of water equals sheol, then does not relate in any way to the idea of the creatures of the sea, the fish, etc., being a very literal animal in a very literal place. The separation of land and sea is “art”, and the separation of animals is “literal”? why the distinction?

Are you also saying that evolution is now finished, and does not continue anymore, since God rested? Or is it still continuing? And if it is continuing, then how does God's rest have symbolic or metaphorical significance?

John

David,

You clearly do not see what Christ is saying since its more than just visceral senses he is arousing in this condemnation. He clearly shows how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law have missed the boat in understanding God, their own sin nature and His redemptive work. These are the same individuals who see themselves as guardians of God’s standards.

Verse 29 is pivotal in the passage since he switches his attack from pointing out flaws in their understanding to linking these men to the history of persecution of God’s messengers or ambassadors, which would be highly offensive since these same individual were supposed to be keeping the people on track so that the nation would not suffer the consequence of the exile again. He basically says you not only do not understand the law but your kind has been around though out the history of the God’s people. I think it is rather clear he is making a historical argument and is not mixing folklore with historical figures since he buttresses this argument with future events (i.e., persecution of the church), and their coming condemnation.

John, I am still missing how you know the difference between the literary devices and the facts. Perhaps state it directly as, “I know the difference by/ because/ through…”

A metaphor must be part real and part unreal. It is a comparison between something known, and something else. This way you can move from what you know, onward to understanding a part of the unknown through the comparison. What is stated is not fact, but it speaks truth.
Most fables were used to teach children morals, and life lessons. They took things children could understand and, through metaphors, taught them the truth.

It is not that God was ‘constrained’ by 7, but put a focus on purposely completing creation in 7 days to begin the significance, but not as a “just happened to finish in six days”.

My ideas about creation are not arbitrary, but rooted in the culture and mindset of the people that would have first received and known the scriptures. I encourage you to look into the culture of the times.

I am unclear by your thought, ‘The separation of land and sea is “art”, and the separation of animals is “literal”? why the distinction?’. I did not try to make a distinction; both could have a literal occurrence, (the water gathered to one place, animals being made) and a metaphorical message, (life separated from death, and life & Shalom).

I never mentioned evolution.

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