A Conversation for Creation - A Mainstream Christian Viewpoint
Susie Started conversation Jul 28, 2002
I guess I'd better say up-front that I have a very hard time reconciling what I have been taught about evolution with both the Biblical account of creation and with other threads in the Bible.
In the Genesis account, after God has finished creating the universe the Bible says "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." (Gen. 1:31)
In all that I've been taught regarding evolution, is the concept of there being many generations and consequently death.
But in the Bible death is regarded as being anything but "good". Genesis teaches that death was the terrible consequences of man seeking to act apart from God's authority.
Death is refered to as the last enemy to be abolished. (1Cor. 15:26)
If we came into being through a process requiring death, i.e. something not good, God could not then look on the finished product and regard it as being "very good".
In the gospel of Matthew (ch.19), where the Pharisees come to test Jesus by asking him a question about divorce, Jesus refers them back to the scriptures, and to the beginning, to the account of the first marriage. (Gen. 2:22-24) How would this approach be valid if the events he refers to had never taken place?
How do you reconcile these and similar things with evolution as a concept of origins?
BillSD Posted Jul 29, 2002
Let me try to respond to your questions about the compatibility of Scripture and evolution. I am also a Christian according to the definition you give on your personal site.
First of all, the question is basically one of epistemology, i.e. how we know things and how we use words to express our thoughts. Since the 17th century there has been an implicit assumption that all language must somehow resemble that which we use in the scientific method. Since Descartes, the assumption has been that all ideas to be valid must be "clear and distinct," i.e. kind of like the clarity of mathematics. Nothing wrong with this in math and the hard sciences, but it doesn't really fit anywhere else.
The assumption has been that the stories in Genesis must fit this scientific model. Actually, ancient Christian interpreters knew better than this. In the 4th century, St. Augustine in his great work on Genesis, explains that the book makes no attempt to describe "how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven."
Augustine, who wrote in Latin, also was convinced that different species had "rationes seminales," that is "seminal principles," from which other species developed–a kind of precursor to evolution before modern science even existed and more than 12 centuries before Darwin. Augustine and his contemporaries understood that certain parts of the Bible used stories to describe that which was beyond human description. This applies to all the first 11 chapters of Genesis. This traditional understanding has been lost in the supposed conflict between science and Scripture and the 17th century model has been presumed as true by both sides
What Genesis actually does is to summarize ancient Israel's understanding of God and relate it to the creation of all things. The ancient authors of the Bible used the language and concepts of their day to do this. The "firmament" was commonly understood and used by everyone. The contrast between Genesis and other ancient accounts of creation is striking. In other accounts, the gods war among themselves and the cosmos results from, in one case, the guts of a slain god.
All these ancient stories were an attempt to explain events that they all knew no one had ever seen. They were also an attempt to explain the meaning of humanity, its relationship to the forces beyond nature and the origins of evil. These were huge questions. Genesis is very clear: Everything that exists was created by the one God–there was no war among the gods. In fact there were no other gods. In the first creation story in Genesis (chapter 1 and the first four verses of chapter 2) God creates all that is and declares that it is good–neither God nor the cosmos is the source of evil. God does this without any competition from gods or other forces. God is totally transcendent to the cosmos, above it and its sole source of origin. This is itself a great contrast to the other ancient myths.
In the second creation story (beginning at Chapter 2, verse 4) this transcendent God is depicted as being actively involved in creating specific beings, ending up with the masterpiece of creation, humanity. Several fundamental ancient questions are resolved here. What is the relationship of the man and the woman? The woman is taken from the side of the man and is his equal, not his inferior–contrast this story with the ancient myth of Pandora's Box where the woman is the source of evil. In Genesis the source of evil is free human choice. The tree in the garden contains the forbidden fruit of pride and disobedience. The man and the woman both eat it. The man blames the woman and she blames the snake, but God responds that they humanity, both sexes are responsible for evil and sin. This is very different from other ancient accounts of evil.
Remember that biblical revelation is about the Word of God expressed in human words. The Bible must necessarily use human language and concepts–those of the time in which it was written. With respect to physical death, ancient peoples were terribly troubled by it–as are we. Scripture clearly states that death results from sin. Actually, evolution has helped to deepen our knowledge of Scripture. What is really at issue is the ultimate fate of humanity and the cosmos. Does it all end in death? Intimately connected with death is our reaction to it. Something in us refuses to accept that life ends in nothingness. Death is indeed the final enemy. If, as evolution shows us, death is a part of all life and even necessary for future life forms, why then can we not accept death as a part of God's creative purpose? Our adverse reaction to death still remains and we are still alienated in this fundamental way from life itself and from ourselves. The theological point of Genesis is made clearer by evolution. Human rebellion against God's plan–which may now be seen to include physical death–is the source of our alienation. But Christians have always understood death to have a spiritual component to it and an ultimacy that is a final barrier. Evolution highlights depth of our alienation and forces us to probe even more deeply into our faith. If God's ultimate intention is to transcend even death itself, then we must deal more profoundly with the alienation and spiritual death which we continue to create for ourselves.
Of course, discussions like this didn't occur before Darwin because there was no occasion for them. Just as there was no reason to question the firmament before Galileo. The book of Genesis throughout the ages, together with whatever scientific understandings are current at any given time forces us to probe more deeply into the most fundamental questions humanity faces.
With respect to marriage, the paradigm for marriage is clearly found in the Genesis passage you cite. It is still the standard for marriage. It is a biblical summation of what marriage really is and what it will always remain.
There are some fine Christian authors writing on these topics. I don't know whether you are British or American, but there are two British authors who are tremendous, John Polkinghorne and Arthur Peacocke–both are professional scientists who became theologians. Stanley Jaki, Conrad Hyers and John Haught are Americans. At a later time I will try to synthesize and summarize some of their thought for you.
Contemporary science has led to a more profound understanding of the full scope of the resurrection of Jesus. 1 Cor 15 is a great part of Paul's teaching on it, but there is much more. Because of contemporary science, we now have deeper insights into Colossians 1:15-20, Romans 8: 18-25 and other similar passages regarding the transformation of the entire cosmos. Contemporary physics, astronomy and biology have provided us with new insights into the tremendous " breadth and length and height and depth" of our faith. (Eph 3:18). More later, but let me end with something more personal and practical on the uses of Scripture..
First, I am an American who has spent a lot of time working with combat veterans who have been emotionally and spiritually traumatized by war. One of the most useful biblical passages is the story of Cain and Abel in Gen. 4. I contrast the other ancient story of Romulus and Remus, twin brothers raised by a wolf, who became the founders of Rome. Romulus killed Remus and became the sole founder and first citizen of Rome. There were no moral consequences to his act. He committed murder and got by with it. There was no responsibility and no accountability. So it was in the ancient world. Now look at Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel and tries to pull the same thing. "I am not my brother's keeper" says Cain when God asks about Abel's whereabouts. God's response: "Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground...." Both these stories are symbolic descriptions of the same profound reality. But the hundreds of combat veterans with whom I have used these stories immediately recognize that the Romulus and Remus story is still false and the Biblical story is still true. Once we recognize that the blood cries out to God and that we are under the curse, then healing and redemption can begin. This has always been the case, and I suspect, it always will be.
Finally, let me end this installment with a poem I wrote about the man and the woman in Genesis and how that passage can be used by women to question men.
HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN....?
A Lament from the Woman in Genesis: 2--by a Man: Bill M.
Have you forgotten your delight when first you saw me?
"This at last," you said, "is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones."
No longer did you search the earth in vain
Gazing into vacant eyes of brutes and beasts
To find a partner for your soul.
From the dust of earth our God did fashion us
Me from your side and near your heart
To be companion, friend and lover
To roam forever with you through the garden.
What happened, companion of my flesh?
Was it not together we discovered we were naked?
We wished to know--and now we do--ambition's bitter taste.
Now you in toil and I in pain seek refuge on the earth
And hope amidst our tears.
But why, companion in my sin and partner in the grace to come,
Do you leave me so bereft?
Why have you enslaved me for centuries unnumbered?
Bought and sold me to be the mother of your sons
And mere receptacle for lust?
No better than the beasts who left you lonely in the garden
Have you treated me, companion of my soul.
Have you forgotten your delight when first you saw me?
But even now, clothed not with leather garments of our exile
But with linen robes of grace
You do me ill, partner of my flesh.
You leave me for one younger when my breast begins to sag
And my hair shows streaks of gray.
You let me wander with our children through the alleys of the world
Homeless and afraid.
You make me dwell in hovels and nurse the babes
While you hunt down your brother, Abel,
O Cain, my son.
Above all, answer me, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones,
Why your violent hardness upon my softest parts?
Why take by force what is ours to share in joy?
Why must you enter me, not in love--nor even lust--
But in hatred and contempt?
It is I who seek an answer from you.
I alone of all who share God's breath, your equal,
I, the only partner suitable for you and you for me
For I alone am from your side and near your heart.
Tell me, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones,
Have you forgotten whence I came?
Answer me, companion, friend and lover.
Have you forgotten your delight when first you saw me?
Ste Posted Aug 2, 2002
alji's Posted Aug 20, 2002
Alji, of the Red Dragon (Swynwr y Ddraig Goch) (conducting a sun sign poll @ A712595)(Member of The H2G2 Guild of Wizards @ U197895 looking for wiz kids to join, though you don't have to be a wiz kid just know a bit about some subject that you think will be of interest to others or just bore the pants off them. This is an equal opportunities space open to all sexes, ages and abilities)
Susie Posted Apr 10, 2004
Hiya, I know it's kinda late, but I want to appologise. I was pretty much looking for an 'argument' with my oringinal posting. Sorry...
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