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November 07, 2007

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Is theistic evolution what Dinesh D'Souza concedes?

Suggestion for future discussion posts: Is God green?

'Evolutionary creationism' can be very persuasive when presented with one important distinction: the analogy of being. God is unlike any created being, and so when we say "God exists", is must be understood he is not a part of the created order. God as supreme being is not univocal with created being and so when God acts he does not intrude or destroy the natural order.

“The very fact that God’s existence itself subsists (per se subsistens) and as such is limitless (dicitur infinitum) distinguishes it from everything else, and sets other things aside from it.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1.7.1)".

The Darwin/Creationist debate can be solved through history. The cuneiform tablets indicate that a
female was summoned to the Earth to assist the Son of Man in the creation of the first Homo
sapiens. This is confirmed at Genesis 1:26 and John 1:18. She was known as The Black Madonna, buried by Christian Jewish and Islamic
religion.

Point taken: theistic evolution won't convert an atheist. But it helps people caught between the Bible and apparent evidence for evolution. Deny them that middle position, and you may lose them entirely.

The truth of your statement, Greg, depends on what you mean when you say Darwinists don't want to combine design with evolution. That may be true for some aspects of design, but not necessarily all. Some Christians like to caricature the evolutionists position by suggesting that theism and evolution are incompatible. You're not technically making this mistake here, but what you said could imply it, so I'd just like to add two cents to make it clear.

I just heard a debate on evolution from 1997 where Eugenie Scott and others were taking on Michael Behe, Philip Johnson, and others. This issue came up. Miss Scott defined evolution basically as the view that living things have descended from a common ancestor. She went on to say "Notice what I didn't say. I didn't say who dun it." She explained that Darwinists simply agree that evolution happened. Descent with modification happened. But as scientists they don't comment on who is responsible. That's not a question that is within the scientists purview.

Like I said, I don't think you technically made the error that Miss Scott corrected, but I think it is an important point of clarification.

Jon: "Darwinists" by definition believe in undirected descent with modification. If they claim direction, they're not toeing the party line.

I have been reading Dsouza's recent book, "What's So Great About Christianity," and recently read through his treatment of evolution and faith. He seems to come down on the side of: the theory of evolution accurately describes natural history, but does not explain the origin of the universe, consciousness, and morality.

Though he notes it, I was a little dissapointed he did not make more use of ID theory in his argument.

If you run into a person who might believe in Jesus but is hung up on evolution, wouldn't you at least say, "Personally I don't believe this, but it's POSSIBLE God guided evolution." Or would you tell them, "No, sorry. You have to believe in (insert age of earth here)Creationism to be a Christian."

There are people out there who might become Christian if they weren’t under the false impression that disbelief in evolution is a central tenant of Christianity. Theistic evolution provides a way for those people to begin their faith in Jesus without becoming sidetracked with a huge scientific and philosophic issue.

It's not about me being comfortable. It's about opening the door wide enough to let seekers in.

Shaun,

I would throw into the mix a warning from the other perspective.

There are those who, on examination of the Scriptures, will realize that evolution is in direct conflict with the recorded history of the Bible. To these people, to present the Bible as being so pliable that these conflicts do not exist can create a low view of Scripture and ultimately cause them to believe that the Bible can mean anything one wishes it to rather than it being a source of authoritative truth.

This is part of my story, early in my exposure to Christian teaching I came to the conclusion that either the "secular" version of world history was correct or the Bibles was. The outcome of my investigation into this issue gave me confidence that the Bible did contain truth and therefore I could trust what it said about Jesus.

But ChrisB, I just provided citations from an evolutionist that said that the question of "who" did it is not within the scientists purview to comment. To assert that evolution must be in every sense undirected would be to make assertions about "who" is doing evolution. Eugenie Scott says that as an evolutionist she is not required to take a position on that claim.

Evolution happened. That's what evolutionists believe. We can see that living things have a common ancestor. We can see that species changed from being more simple life forms to more complex life forms. We hypothesize that external factors like environment prompted these changes. We are not suggesting that this means God played no role. Evolution simply has nothing to say about that. You can certainly be an evolutionist and consistently believe in a god as well.

Denis,

I submit that your literalist interpretation of Scriptures is unwarranted. Reading the first chapters of Genesis as a newspaper style account of creation is naieve. Scripture is the word of God expressed in the words of men. As such it should be understood in light of the relevant cultural and literary forms of the day (as well as according to the analogy of faith). The priestly author of the 1st creation story was intent on communicating important theological truths and not merely recording historical events according to modern preoccupations and tastes. There is no violence done to the text by understanding that Creation needn't be seen as having occurred literally in six days.

Matthew records Jesus as saying "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away..." You haven't actually done so, have you?

Mark,

In essence, I approach the creation account no different than I do other sections of Scripture. I look at what the text says, try to understand how it would have been originally understood and look to how other areas of Scripture might add clarity or further understanding.

To date this has lead me to what you have described as a "literalist interpretation", but I can find no other that is justified by the text as it has been given to us.

I would also add that the issue of world history I described is bigger than just creation. How do the flood, Babel, and other early historic accounts fit into our understanding of history. What about technology, genealogies, life spans or other details which may not fit our secular understanding of how we got here (which is the background I come from).

It was actually the discrepancies between the Biblical account of the flood and the popular "Discovery Channel" explanation that started me down this path of investigation, not the age of the earth or evolution.

One final note, you stated that the creation "needn't be seen as having occurred literally in six days". For this you may be able to make some points, but this thread was specifically about evolution. Evolution requires much more than to simply allow the days to be longer than 24 hours, it requires a complete allegorization of, at minimum, the first 11 chapters of Genesis. It would also call into question Gods ability to clearly communicate with us.

Jon, I commend your pensive rebuttal to Denis' thought. But, I do want to know how you arrived at making the conclusion of the intent of the author of Genesis. Your words exactly are, "The priestly author of the 1st creation story was intent on communicating important theological truths and not merely recording historical events according to modern preoccupations and tastes."

You might agree, that's a big presumption.

Also, I've often wondered why God decided to make all of Creation in six days. Being that he is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. and if we understand God's nature even in the slightest, could he not have made all Creation in just one day? Why six?

There have been a few interesting comments about the importance of conceding a modicum of validity to theistic evolution in order to afford "seeker sensitivity" to Christianity. Denis touches upon the slippery slope this creates, about which I'm concerned also.

Orthodoxy of belief is an important concept, whether regarding Christianity or Darwinism. Without strict definitions of terminology we lose the ability to communicate in any worthwhile sense. If we start to invade orthodox Christianity with naturalistic philosophies, we dilute an important essence of what we mean when we describe Christianity. That which means everything means nothing.

My understanding is the first creation story dates to the Babylonian exile after the destruction of the temple. The writer would have been keen to demonstrate that the rhythm of Jewish life, and the observance of the Sabbath, was rooted in creation. So Jewish piety need not end merely because of the destruction of the temple.

Remember that God doesn't reveal Himself to satisfy our curiosity but to save us. So the Genesis stories communicate (clearly) important theological truths about who we are, where we came from, and our eternal destiny. They are not necessarily a source of history or science (other parts of Genesis are obviously historical).

Carlos,

Your are not alone in your thinking, at the time of the Reformation there were some in the church who taught that exact thing - that God created everything in an instant or at least a solitary day (actually, if memory serves we can go back to Augustine and see this as well).

Due to this being taught at that time, we can see how some of the "fathers" of the Reformation weighed in on this particular thought, for example:

"Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men." - John Calvin, "Commentary on Genesis - Volume 1" [note on Genesis 1:5]

And:

"When Moses writes that God created Heaven and Earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go." Martin Luther quoted from EM Plass, "What Martin Luther Says, a Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian"

Mark,

Since your interpretation of Genesis 1 is so tightly coupled with your understanding of the book's authorship, I have a couple questions:

1) On what basis do you reject Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?

2) Who exactly do you believe authored these books and what evidence do you rely on for this conclusion?

Denis,

I think the ancients had a more fluid notion of "authorship" then moderns. Biblical scholars have noted nuances in vocabulary, style ect. to infer about the variety of influences found in Genesis. This all falls under the category of studying the scriptures in view of their human authorship (as well as using the analogy of faith to understand the Divine authorship).

Does this threaten the faith? Remember that God is not in competition with the universe. Grace perfects nature without destroying it.

If Moses authored the Torah, exclusively, how is it that he was able to narrate his own death in Deuteronomy 34:

"So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD,
Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. "

Mark,

Unfortunately, I still do not have a good understanding of your position. My apologies if I am being obtuse, but I will re-ask my questions accepting the exclusion of Deuteronomy 34 from the conversation.

1) On what basis do you reject Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?

2) Who exactly do you believe authored these books and what evidence do you rely on for this conclusion?

Just to elaborate on my reason for asking, your interpretation of Genesis seems to be tied up in your understanding of the author and his motivations based on the cultural and societal factors of his day. To understand your position I think I need to understand these presuppositions better.

Upon further reflection, another concern I am having has to do with your suggestion that the authors intent was to "demonstrate that the rhythm of Jewish life, and the observance of the Sabbath, was rooted in creation". My thought is that if what you are suggesting about natural history is correct, then the pattern of the Jewish week is not rooted in creation at all.

This would lead me either to the conclusion that the author was imposing on God something he never intended (meaning the account was not inspired) or that God lied about the reason for the Sabbath (a reason he was under no compulsion to give).

Denis -

I think I understand your point of view. But it could also work the other way. I was a Christian who had a liberal view of scriptures. But as my faith grew I took the Bible more seriously.

“evolution is in direct conflict with the recorded history of the Bible”

True, but the Bible is in direct conflict with something more important, our sinful desires. I think people need to focus on their personal need for a Savior before they worry about evolution. As Greg says, the Bible is offensive enough. Is it tactically smart to add a biology lesson to the Nicene creed?

I appreciate your perspective. It made me think. And like Greg also says, I could be wrong.

The only way to understand why bad things such as cancer, war and earthquakes happen is to have a clear understanding of Genesis. It is there we can see there once was no cancer, war or earthquakes. God tells us it will be like that once again in the future. The reason these bad things happen is because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Now the whole world groans. Genesis 1-11 is written as literal history. To treat it otherwise is make a Bible of your own liking and a god of your own choosing.

Here is a list in case you are wondering why evolution falls flat if you take Genesis 1-11 literally as it is written.

1. Animals bring forth after their kind.

2. The order of creation is different then that of evolution.

3. There was no cancer and death before Adam sinned.

4. There was a world wide flood.

Shaun,

Absolutely, man's need for salvation comes first. I'm don't think I'd ever launch into a full blown 6-day creation defence right of the bat if someone mentioned evolution, but I wouldn't necessarily shy away from it if asked specifically for what I believe.

Really, I think the more generic ID-style arguments (design, information, complexity) in conjunction perhaps with a discussion about philosophical presuppositions are the more likely starting points when evolution initially comes up.

Thank you for your perspective as well.

Denis,

I accept Mosaic authorship for the Pentateuch in the ancient near-eastern sense the Moses was the authority behind it. He was not an eye-witness of creation, or the flood, or the call of Abram. As a nomad, furthermore, and a Prophet I suspect he was a man of word and speech and story and not of the written text. So, he likely relied upon scribes to preserve important traditions in written form.

I accept modern biblical scholarship as a science (not every theory or conclusion) just as I accept modern medicine and archeology (what do you make of all those dinasaur carcases - is the world really only 5,000 years old as a literalist interpretation of Scripture would hold?). I suggest you pick up an introductory study of the scientific approach to Genesis. Biblical science should not be an enemy of the faith but rather a guide to the true and deeper meaning of the text.

I find the 4 tradition theory behind Genesis to have great expository power. For example, what do you make of the fact that Genesis 1 tells of the creation of the world from a cosmological point of view (pardon my oversimplification) while Genesis 2 recounts a second creation story, this time from a more anthropological point of view. Why two creation accounts? Why does the first creation story use a respectful circumlocution for the name of God while the second uses the familiar "Yahweh"? Modern scholarship can be a help here.

Lastly, I'm not saying the final redactor of the 1st creation story fabricated the Sabbath out of whole cloth. The Sabbath was likely an ancient tradition. But, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he organized his material to highly the "order within complexity" within creation and the fact that by resting on the Seventh day God made a covenent with creation ("sevened" himself to creation) thus making it holy. Again, the purpose is to communicate important theological truths about how God is related to the world, not a newpapaer scoop with an eyewitness account of the first 168 hours of time.

Mark,

Thank you for your response. Who's work do you recommend in this area; I've tried Googling various phrases you have used but haven't really come across anything that seems closely related to what you are explaining. Unfortunately I am still not fully understanding how these theories impact ones interpretation of Scripture.

Just to touch on a couple questions you raise; first, I would suggest "all those dinasaur carcases" are a result of dead dinosaurs :). More specifically (and perhaps less facetiously), since rapid burial is the most conducive situation for fossil formation, a bulk of fossils would logically have been formed by the global flood described in Genesis 7.

As to the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2; since I know of no conflicts between the 2 accounts, I don't see how their existence impacts the question of historicity at all. As you stated, the first gives the big picture, the second goes on to explain the events relating specifically to man in greater detail (a zoom in, if you will).

One other question I typically like to ask in these discussions; what are the Scriptural arguments which you find persuasive that the "literalist interpretation" is incorrect or, more powerfully, that your view is correct?

It bothers me when I hear Christians talk about a design. God is not a designer; God is the creator. God creates ends and the means come into existence. God does not have to design the means. When I was in the garden with Jesus, he set the ground rules for the creation. He told me that I would surely die. Not because Adam disobeyed God, but because that was the creation, the dimension of the flush. When his act of disobedience occurred Adam had yet to be given the knowledge of the dimension of the flush; his eyes had not been opened; he had yet to become aware. The act of disobedience was a means to make me aware of the dimension of the flush and myself and the dimension of God. I was the able to receive the knowledge of the dimension of the flush, the knowledge of good and evil, because I was also made aware of the master deceiver. Another rule that Jesus gave to me in the garden was that I could dwell in the creation by the sweat of my brow until the day that I died. Jesus also told me that when I die my flush would turn to dust. Not knowing any better Adam thought the dust was dirt, good old terra firma. Jesus told me in the garden that the dust was not dirt the dust was some of the basic elements of the creation from which I was created. The dust was stardust. In the garden Jesus also told me the purpose of the creation, but that is a story for another day. Science the Holy Grail of the atheists is nothing but a tool; science is the sweat of my brow. One time I talked to a man who lived 5000 years ago and I told him about this great theory of evolution and how good the science was. He asked me, what I did with this find theory? I told him; through cross breeding plants we could increase food production because the science was good. He said to me “that they had doing it for years and asked where do you think your pets came from, God, it was a good tool for us long before it was a good theory for you”.

Christians should have paid more attention to Jesus’ lesson of the parable. It was not about throwing seeds around and growing good plants or people for that matter. The lesson was that the truth is in the meaning and understanding of the words not the words themselves. If the truth of the meaning and understanding of the words does not grow we will make bad choices in our journey through the space time continuum. We will not use the sweat of our brow wisely. Jesus then told me that was why; Jesus did not write any words. We would just make golden calves out of the words and get lost on our journey through the dimension of the flush and fail to fulfill the purpose of the creation.

Denis,

I think a literal interpretation of Genesis is fine, provided one is attuned to language, literary forms, culture, and source considerations. Any decent study Bible, such as the HarperCollins Study Bible will address these issues. A "literalist" interpretation, however, where the text is simply taken at face value, is doomed to failure. How was there “evening and … morning, one day” (vs. 5) when the sun had yet to be created? How did the fruit trees grow and bear fruit before there were days and nights or seasons? Why two radically different accounts for the creation of man (in the 1st God creates merely by speaking/in the second he forms man physically with his hands and arms using mud)?

As expected, the quality of hits from googling searches like "genesis source criticism", "genesis literary criticism" vary widely. Pick your favorite, however, here are a couple of overviews:

http://moses.creighton.edu/simkins/201/cmat/source.html

Or,

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/moses.html#text2

"The lesson was that the truth is in the meaning and understanding of the words not the words themselves."

Contrast this with 2 Peter 1:19-20 -

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.

Solrev,

When we use our personal, subjective experiences as a rule for interpreting Scripture (or any text, event, person, movement, et al), the "meaning" of those things is only limited by our imaginations. With all due respect, your post shows that this can even lead to using the Bible as a book of sorcery. Scary stuff.

For those looking for a more robust defense of a non-literal/non-scientific interpretation of Genesis, I highly recommend Wheaton College professor Dr. John H. Walton's Genesis commentary in the NIV Application Commentary series (Zondervan).

As one of the world's foremost experts in ancient Near Eastern cosmology and literature, Walton's approach examines the text through the eyes of the Hebrews, not through the eyes of 21st-century mankind. As such, it becomes abundantly clear that a literal, historical narrative reading of Genesis 1-11 is NOT the way Genesis was ever intended to be read or understood. Audience relevance and authorial intent are key to properly understanding Genesis. Once that is accomplished (to the best of our ability), the entire young-earth/old-earth debate vanishes in a cloud of clarity.

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