Perspectives on Theistic Evolution

I was interested to read Christianity Today‘s coverage of a recent Biologos conference. The attendees included forty-one scholars and pastors who hold to (or are at least sympathetic to) theistic evolution.

Knowing that they are in a minority among Protestants did not limit the gathering’s enthusiasm. About 60 participants came by special invitation, with the proviso that their names would not be publicized without permission. This was intended to encourage open conversation on sensitive topics. Attending were such luminaries as N. T. Wright, Alister McGrath, John Ortberg, Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Os Guinness, Joel Hunter, and Andy Crouch…This year’s program centered on concerns for the church—especially for young people who feel torn between science and the Bible…

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

This is a big topic, and I do not intend to resolve all the issues here. I would simply like to direct interested readers to an alternative perspective. Albert Mohler delivered an address on the topic in 2010 in which he argues that the biblical doctrine of creation is incompatible with any form of evolutionary theory of human origins (theistic or otherwise). Listen to it here, or watch it below.

67 Responses to Perspectives on Theistic Evolution

  1. Don Johnson April 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    I listened to the whole presentation. Mohler has studied the area, listening to others who disagree with him for the most part. I commend him for this.

    Since I am EC/TE and follow this area, I was disappointed that he did not interact with Walton and Enns, since they discuss the exegetical reasons for being EC/TE. After listening to Mohler, one might think that such people do not exist and furthermore are not possible to exist at least as believers, but they do.

    His basic argument for being YEC is that ‘this is the most natural reading of the text’. I disagree with this for exactly the reason that Walton, Enns, and Christopher Smith give in their books. In other words, it is an interpretation question and I think Mohler is taking the text out of context, specifically the immediate context of Gen 1 being different than Gen 2 as well as the cultural context for both and therefore misunderstanding the genres of the stories. And once you do that, one will misread the text in large ways.

    • Daryl Little April 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

      The problem with Enns is that he has already said that Paul and Jesus clearly understood Adam to be an historical person, and that they were wrong.

      That in itself removes him from serious consideration in the study of Genesis and creation.

      Mohler is correct in stating that the theological issues are the only issues that matter.
      Science changes constantly, Scripture does not.

  2. Kenneth Ross April 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    I wonder, Denny, how many of those who hold to theistic evolution continue to hold to a real, individual, Adam and Eve. My perception is that many who hold to ‘TE’ are ready to abandon a historically orthodox understanding of Adam and Eve.

    • Don Johnson April 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

      Here is the key question, is it required for a faithful believer to read Gen 2 as a historical narrative or is it possible to faithfully read it as something like a parable. Just because something is possible to read as a historical narrative does not always mean that one MUST read it that way. It also does not mean that a historical narrative is even the best wasy to read it. I agree that there are possible concerns about seeing the whole Bible as entirely non-historical (as some atheists claim), but I think those concerns can be addressed.

      So the question is a genre question.

  3. Don Johnson April 9, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

    Read John Walton on Gen 1 if you are willing to learn how to read the text in cultural context. He has both a popular book and a scholarly book out. He is an OT professor and also wrote NIVAC Genesis, so he is credible.

  4. Jerry Corbaley April 9, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    The Biologos discussion is right on one point. Theistic evolution needs a narrative. I am assuming they mean a narrative that actually interprets Genesis 1-11 in light of billions of years of evolution and the dramatic improvement of humanity. That is to say, somehow make the text say what Theistic Evolutionists already believe.

  5. Don Johnson April 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    The text does not need to “say” what EC/TE already believe. If you read Walton, he shows how one can understand Gen 1 in context, for example, and there is no intersection with what science says, they can each be correct but not overlap.

  6. Jerry Corbaley April 10, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    If you read icr.org you will see that Biblical Creationists understand the context of Genesis quite well. There is no need to duck the intersection of the words God has spoken with the laws of science God has created.

    Macro evolution is not operational science, it is historical science. It cannot be tested and cannot be reproduced, and it contradicts itself every passing month. It produces no technology except social theory. It provides the narrative fable to justify human pride and remove accountability to the Creator.

    • Don Johnson April 10, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      One might think that all has been said on Gen 1 that is possible to say, but John Walton disproves that idea and disproves it in a big way. Anyone, including ICR, who might think they know the context of Gen 1 without reading Walton is just kidding themselves, his insights are that important.

      • Jerry Corbaley April 10, 2012 at 10:52 am #

        Anyone who thinks they know the context of Genesis 1 without reading John Walton is just kidding themselves?

        I have been known to overstate a case.

        • Don Johnson April 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

          His scholarly book “Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” puts the relevant cultural context documents all in one place. One could assemble them by themselves, I suppose.

          An ancient cosmology is a functional creation from already existing stuff that is differentiated and then given names. Thinking that Gen 1 describes creation ex nihilo is already taking it out of context. But the big way to disrespect the text is not seeing Gen 1 as a functional creation, as opposed to other types of creation, this means one is misreading it in a big way.

          • Don Johnson April 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

            For anyone that want want to investigate that Walton and Longman have to say on Gen 1-2 at a recent ETS seminar, see this link. I highly recommend it.

            http://marccortez.com/2012/04/10/john-walton-and-tremper-longman-on-genesis-1-2-video/

          • G. Kyle Essary April 11, 2012 at 4:04 am #

            Let’s not overstate his importance, which is largely disregarded in the field outside of evangelicals arguing over perspectives of creation.

            Much of his argument depends on a highly controversial reading of the Hebrew verb “bara,” rejected by the vast majority of Hebrew scholars I’ve read on the subject. I have no problem with his reading, but I don’t think it’s established in the least at this point. In fact, in a discussion I had with him about two years ago over the usages of the verb even within Genesis, I was shocked at the lack of development of his thinking at that point. Unfortunately, he didn’t really further his arguments in his more academic offering. Maybe he will publish a paper someday?

            For a starting point into this discussion, see his discussion with John Hobbins and other good believing and unbelieving Hebrew scholars in the comments (Lenzi, Holmsdedt, Heiser, etc.) – http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2008/05/does-genesis-1.html

            At the same time, much more can be said in support of the functional perspective built specifically on Hebrew exegetical grounds. John Sailhamer began this work with “Genesis Unbound,” and others have taken it up in the last twenty years. The benefit to Sailhamer’s method is that it does not require eisegetically reading remotely similar ANE texts into the text, nor does it depend on the fictitious construction of an “ANE cosmology” with which to compare the Hebrew Bible. He makes the case using the Hebrew text alone alongside canonical interpretation within the Hebrew Bible.

            It should be stated though that Walton does affirm an historical Adam & Eve, and as of our last conversation he considered that “essential.” A good group of others at the BioLogos conference also hold to an historical Adam & Eve (like Keller for instance).

            • Don Johnson April 11, 2012 at 10:26 am #

              That AHP thread is from before the publication of Walton’s scholarly book or his presentation above. I think it would be best to discuss his views from that basis and not from his earlier works. He says how it took him years of thinking on the subject to get to where he is today and that he only had pieces beforehand. So I respect him a lot for clearing a trail thru the woods for me to follow. Previous to his works I could see that parts of Gen 1 could be (faithfully) read in a functional way, but I did not see that ALL of it could be (faithfully) read that way.

              • G. Kyle Essary April 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

                Don,
                This is incorrect on a number of levels. As I stated above, having read the books, discussed the topic with Walton and others, his latter book did not advance his arguments concerning bara, and the criticism from Hobbins stand. Furthermore, you are incorrect about the timing. In a discussion with Walton nearly two years ago, he told me that the Eisenbraun’s manuscript was complete and at that point they had been sitting on it for two years…I think he has stated this in other places as well. He wanted the scholarly work published before the IVP book, but Eisenbrauns took their time in publishing the manuscript.

                As I stated above, I think there are better arguments in support of the functional reading. I hope his work on the “bara” continues, because it stands unconvincing at this point and that is a key piece of his argument. This is the main reason that I think his work has not been widely accepted outside of evangelicals arguing for a particular view of creation.

              • G. Kyle Essary April 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

                To clarify, I think his two years of thinking was sometime between his Calvin College (mid-90s) address and the publication of the NIVAC volume. I love a lot of what Walton is doing, especially in regards to the temple motifs, but holes remain that need to be filled.

            • G. Kyle Essary April 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

              Joshua,
              There were unquetionably ANE “cosmologies,” just as there are lots of cosmologies today. I assure you that a discussion between myself, my Chinese Buddhist neighbors and the Muslim neighbors across the street would provide you with differing cosmologies. Furthermore, a chat with Stephen Hawking might give a different picture as well.

              There were plenty of ANE cosmologies, so constructing a unified ANE based on texts from two millenia scattered over hundreds of miles, drawing pictures of it (like the terribly unhelpful one here – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_XAakLKI3wRs/S3WidTbq8eI/AAAAAAAAACM/ZWvA3YA2pVs/s1600-h/enns.ane.bmp) and then reading that construction back into the text as the governing hermeneutic seems a fools errand. To be honest, in some people’s work, it becomes as eisegetical as a bad preacher reading the latest pop psychology into the New Testament.

              • Don Johnson April 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

                It seems clear to me that bara does not require material creation but a functional creation does fit. One can see this just from the Biblical uses, unless one is just assuming material creation and then uses escape valves to explain the exceptions.

                The basic point is that a word gets its meaning from the way it is used and not because some rabbis told some translaters that it means “create” and some modern people think this means creating material because that is the modern paradigm.

                In any case, show me the evidence for alternatives, as Walton says in his video.

                I also have HUGE concerns with Mohler’s summary solution, that things were just created by God with the appearance of age:

                1) It totally destroys the basis for science of any sort.

                2) It makes God into a deceiver on a grand scale.

                So the cost is just way too high to accept that form of intellectual and faith suicide for me.

                • G. Kyle Essary April 11, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

                  Let me give a few problems (and there are more). Some are addressed in Walton’s book, others are left unaddressed.

                  Honest question: Do you read Hebrew? I’m going to assume you do, and use some below in my comments.

                  1. There is a clear difference between ??? and ????. There is a tendency in Walton’s work to conflate the two. The former is only used in three places in Genesis 1. It is used for God’s action during the beginning period; it is used for the creation of the “great sea creatures and every living creature that moves” in 1:21, and it is used for humanity in 1:27.

                  A more natural reading of the Hebrew is that God will ??? something in order to ???? it, where the latter more denotes function and purpose. This is why you have a phrase like “?????????????? ???????? ?????????” at the end of 2:3, where the implied meaning is “which God ???’d in order to ????.” They cannot both simply mean something on the order of assigning function.

                  2. I’m not sure that the concept of creatio ex nihilo was intended in Genesis 1:1 (although as Walton says it is found elsewhere), but that’s not my argument. My argument would be that ??? deals with manufacturing something, whether or not from existing material. That’s not the issue. The question is whether or not Walton is justified in saying that it serves a functional purpose as opposed to a manufacturing purpose. I believe that ??? deals with the manufacturing, but ???? deals with function. Walton has not justified thinking otherwise at this point, but may someday.

                  3. ??? is specifically theological. It’s used in reference to God’s action. ???? is a common term used by all sorts of agents. It does not seem that Walton’s analysis differentiates between the two to the extent that the differentiation is made in the text.

                  I’m not arguing for Mohler’s interpretation…far from it. I’m just saying that Walton’s work isn’t as well established as this thread presents. I’m much more convinced by the work of Sailhamer from twenty years before (much of which Walton attempts to build upon).

                • Johnny Mason April 12, 2012 at 9:33 am #

                  In regards to God as a deceiver, let’s assume for a moment that God created Adam, either ex nihilo or from the dust of the earth. Why would creating Adam as a mature adult be deceptive? If it is not deceptive, then why would creating a universe as mature be deceptive?

                  Also, in regards to evolution in general, a basic necessity of evolution is death, so if evolution is true then death was in the world prior to Adam and the Scriptures are in error, correct?

                  • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 10:14 am #

                    Creating Adam as a mature adult would be deceptive. That is the simple answer.

                    The verb is Hebrew yatsar/form which is what is done when one makes a clay pot. Recall that Genesis was written to those in a Bronze Age farming/herding society, this is a very simple way to say that God formed humanity (Adam) to be what God wanted in terms in functions, in the text given in Gen 2 to “dress and keep” the garden, which are temple terms for what a priest does.

                    The theory of evolution does rely on death to do the “natural selection” (as contrasted with the artificial selection done by humans to form plants and animals). The act of digesting food involves death as does many other natural processes that are a part of life. Forming fingers in the womb involves death of cells between what the fingers will become, so God uses death to “form” our bodies. Using what are called natural processes are part of what we call God’s providence.

                    I disagree that death before Adam was formed implies Scripture is in error, what it implies is that certain INTERPRETATIONS of Scripture are not consistent with death before Adam, this is similar to what Galileo experienced when he said the earth moved around the sun, certain interpretations of Scripture text that “clearly” says “the earth shall not be moved” are inconsistent with the heliocentric model.

                    • Jerry Corbaley April 12, 2012 at 11:22 am #

                      Hey Guys,

                      Are you following any Biblical direction in interpreting Genesis this way? Any at all?

                      Creating Adam as a mature adult would be deceptive? The very text that proclaims that Adam was created mature clears up any confusion. The very assertion that it is deceptive accuses God of deception.

                      What are you doing?

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 11:52 am #

                      Psa 103:14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

                      Do you not see the possibility that the author of Genesis is using poetic imagery when the text says that the human was made of dust?

                      In any case, why do you claim that the text says the human was formed mature? I do not see that claim anywhere in the text, altho some interpretations of the text may make that claim.

                    • Jerry Corbaley April 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

                      I can’t think of any Biblical text to justify your method of interpretation either.

                      Genesis 1 speaks of God creating the heavens and the earth in six days.

                      Let me remind you of another historical narrative in Exodus 20:1-21. Here God Himself speaks to multiplied hundreds of thousands of people standing upon quaking ground with a voice that terrifies them and says, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.

                      Do you actually think the scholars among them should conclude, “I wonder what God meant by that?”

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

                      Per Walton, Gen 1 and Ex 20 can be seen as referring to a functional creation, in fact, that is the preferred way to see it, as I understand it. Just because we today think in terms of material creation does not mean that is the way the original readers/hearers saw it back when.

                      Also, I see heavens and earth and sea as referring to the ancient tiered cosmology. That is, you look up and see the heavens and you look around and see land (of Israel) and sea (Med., Galilee, or Dead Sea). These are very simple intuitive terms for what Bronze Age farmers and shepherds saw.

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

                      P.S. I am trying to answer your questions, but you have declined to answer my question. Do you not see that poetic forms might be being used in the early chapters of Gen? Seeing them in this way does not lessen the truth that they are conveying that Israel’s God created everything we see.

                    • Jerry Corbaley April 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

                      Hi Don,

                      Yes, I can see that one could choose to consider the early chapters of Genesis as a poetic form. One could choose to see the resurrection account as a poetic form.

                      I would like to ask again; Are you following any Biblical direction (instruction) to interpret Genesis this way? In other words, is the inspiration for your preferred interpretation Biblical or secular?

                      You see, Don, one of us is suppressing the truth. Romans 1:18 does not speak well of that action. If we are seeking to influence others (as clearly we are), then one of us is distorting the truth and Acts 20:30 does not speak well of that.

                      Our methods of interpretation are radically different. It is like the Bible means two entirely different things.

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

                      Hi Jerry,

                      I am trying my best to understand the creation/origins stories in Genesis along the lines that the original readers/hearers would have understood them, in the literary genre of creation/origins stories and as God accommodated to their ancient understandings in order that the stories would be able to be understood.

                      Yes, we differ, I think you are mistaken and you think I am mistaken. This does not mean I see you as “suppressing the truth” that would mean that you are a deceiving teacher like the serpent who lies to entrap others; I merely see you as mistaken on this area of Bible interpretation.

                      This is the very common challenge of prot Bible interpretation, there are various ways to understand some of the texts. There are whole series of books dealing with various subjects such as 2 views of women in ministry, 3 views of justification, and 4 view of the end times, etc. I might adopt one of those views, but I do not think the others are “suppressing the truth”, I just think they are mistaken.

                      For example, I go to a Baptist church, I believe in credobaptism as I think that is what the Bible teaches. Other believers might go to a Presbyterian church and believe in paedobaptism. I think they are wrong and they think I am wrong and this is for something that is stated in Hebrews 6 as being part of the “elementary teachings” of the faith. But I accept them as believers even tho we differ on something that is very fundamental.

                    • Jerry Corbaley April 12, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

                      Hi Don,

                      I do understand the perspective from which you begin.

                      I am not your judge, nor vice-versa.

                      It is easy to tolerate one another from a distance. Yet we might strongly object to the others influence over close friends or family.

                      I do recognize your polite and self-controlled manner and commend you for it.

                      I have no desire to continue or expand our disagreement. Carry on, it’s Denny’s blog.

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

                      Jerry,

                      I do not mind honest disagreement among fellow believers on such subjects as creation/origins and end times, we all see thru a glass darkly, but we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit even if we do not have unity in the faith. When I teach on the subject in a Christian context I teach the various options of YEC, OEC, and EC, along with Framework on Gen 1.

                    • Johnny Mason April 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

                      @Don – Im not sure who your responses are aimed at since the indentation is not working, so I will do my best to answer the questions I think are directed at me :)

                      “why do you claim that the text says the human was formed mature”

                      First, we need to define maturity. Is mature an adult? Is it a baby? Is it a two month old fetus? Is it a just-conceived egg? If it was a baby, wouldn’t that be more mature than a fetus? I believe Adam was formed as an adult, because Gen 2 speaks of Adam tending to the garden and naming the animals, not exactly something a baby or small child could do.

                      I have no problem with poetic imagery, but Genesis is not psalms. It is a continuous story all the way up to the Israelites in Egypt. There is no break in the narrative where it goes from poetic/allegorical language to a more historical narrative. The only real break of narrative occurs between Gen 1 and Gen 2, but from Gen 2 on it is all seamless.

                      I am open to the idea of Gen 1 being more poetic, but given that, evolution is still incompatible with it.

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

                      I see Gen as Sinai covenant preamble, so the narrative has a main purpose of showing God being faithful to God’s covenants and when a covenant is put in jeopardy, God will ensure the covenant promises continue. But many people before me notice that the form of the narrative changes between Gen 1-11 and Gen 12-50 as the former narratives are highly stylized and contain many more poetic elements and less details. The flood story is one giant chiasm, for example and other stories in Gen 1-11 are filled with chiasms, yet straight history does not usually roll out in a chiasm, e.g., if someone put the history of WWII into a chiasm, you would immediately recognize it was some form of poetry. In other words, Gen 12-50 is how people normally tell stories, but Gen 1-11 is not, something else is going on there. God reveals essential truths that God wants the Israelites to know in Gen 1-11 but he does so in a way that accommodates to their cultural understanding of creation/origins stories, which is a type of literary genre.

                      Gen 1 when seen per Walton as a Cosmic Temple Inaugeration along functional lines is a narrative that does not conflict with any possible scientific narrative along material lines. He discusses this towards the end of his books. They can both be true as they do not intersect.

                    • Johnny Mason April 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

                      @Don – You are using the scientific definition of life and death, not the Biblical definition, which is odd considering your argument is about understanding the Scriptures through a cultural context, when that culture had no idea about cells and what happens in the womb. The Bible says that the life is in the blood (Lev 17:11-14), so only creatures with blood have life. So death is the ending of this life. Now Romans 5:12 tells us that sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin. So if death existed while life was evolving to Adam, then Romans 5:12 is wrong, and sin existed in the world long before Adam showed up.

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

                      Johnny,

                      Yes, the Israelites had a simpler conception of life than we do. They classified animals in a functional way, water swimmers and air swimmers, so a bat is an air swimmer even tho it is not a bird but a mammal. So it is a challenge on how translations show these categories when modern wordviews do not see things using these ancient categories. But the first thing to see is that death did exist regardless of how Adam is conceived.

                      Paul is using 1st century Jewish ways of discussing things in Romans, this is not too surprising, but that does not mean we should read him as if he was claiming this in the 21st century. I have seen way too much of the teleporting of 21st century ideas back into 1st century text and it is generally a bad idea to do so. Since we know death did exist, we need to try to figure out what Paul meant in Rom 5 and that means getting into his ways of thinking like a 1st century Jew.

                      They did know that plants are alive and rocks are not and when you eat a plant it dies but if you eat rocks they will not sustain you.

                    • Johnny Mason April 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

                      @Don – “But the first thing to see is that death did exist regardless of how Adam is conceived.”

                      Did sin exist prior to Adam? If so, how? If not, then how can death exist when there is no sin?

                    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

                      The point is to figure out what kind of death to which Paul is referring. There are various ideas among the faithful.

                      I see the Gen 2-4 stories as similar to parables, they are true because they are true for everyone, every one of us has the potential to act like one of the characters in the stories because of our choices, to make good choices and bad choices, to be deceived and thereby sin (like the woman) or to sin deliberately (like the man) or to plot to sin (like Cain) or to even teach others to sin (like the serpent).

                  • Joshua Wooden April 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

                    Johnny,
                    I think your question (criticism) just plain misses the point. Honestly, the matter of God being deceptive isn’t really a primary criticism of anyone who doesn’t hold to YEC. The fact of the matter is that YEC uses criteria that are ultimately arbitrary and can’t be held to consistently given the weight of other cosmological texts that are not interpreted literally.
                    Another criticism, but not a primary one, is that it makes scientific inquiry of any sort ridiculous and irrelevant, because any finding that are supported by tangible evidence are refuted by texts with NO evidence. But that is only secondary. The primary concern is whether the interpretation can be held to consistently ACROSS the board, not just with Genesis. This is the thrust of John Walton’s book, which I would highly recommend you read.

                    • Johnny Mason April 13, 2012 at 9:30 am #

                      @Joshua – I was responding directly to criticism given by Don of God as deceiver.

                      “Another criticism, but not a primary one, is that it makes scientific inquiry of any sort ridiculous and irrelevant”

                      No, it doesn’t. It only makes evolutionary inquiry ridiculous and irrelevant, which is what it is.

                      I am not arguing YEC. I am arguing specifically against TE. Evolution is completely incompatible with Scripture. From its reliance on death and natural selection, to its incompatibility with the sequence of creation events. (Evolution has birds after land animals, while the Bible has them before).

                      I find it ironic that those who argue viewing the Bible from the culture in which it was directed towards, are the ones bringing a modern scientific theory into the text. One in which the culture at the time would have no idea about. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

                    • Don Johnson April 13, 2012 at 11:27 am #

                      Evolution is not incompatible with Scripture, it is incompatible with certain INTERPRETATIONS of Scripture. I agree that if one reads Gen 1-11 as a straight historical narrative then that genre decision gives a reading where evolution is incompatible with Scripture, but my claim is that this is not the right genre with which to read this Scripture, that it is taking Scripture out of (proper genre) context in order to read it this way. Once one assigns the wrong genre to Scripture, then it is essentially certain to read it incorrectly.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

                      Johnny,
                      Thanks, and I’m aware that you were not responding to me, but to Don. Nevertheless. . . .
                      The reason it makes scientific inquiry of any sort ridiculous is because the same method (the empirical method) is used across science. It’s not a question of one theory or another using different methods – they both employ the same method. The problem with saying that God created the earth to “look” or “appear’ old is that it relativizes the importance and use of tangible, empirical evidence AS tangible, empirical evidence.
                      I must say here that it’s somewhat (though not entirely) irrelevant for Dr. Burke to include Mohler’s video against Old earth, when TE is related, but not the same thing. An argument against the believing the earth is 4.3-4.5 billion years ago is not the same as believing that all living organisms derive their ancestry from a single ancestor who is now extinct. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, but I just thought I would point that out.
                      I understand where you’re coming from – I really do, but you’re arguing for an interpretation of Genesis that you would not hold to consistently across scripture. Have you read my posts above? What about things like pillars supporting the earth, and a firmament (dome) holding back the rain, and separating earth (creation’s domain) and the heavens (God’s domain). What is the plain, commonsense, straightforward reading of those texts? What criteria would you use to interpret those texts accurately. And if you’re going to say that it’s not literally, scientifically true, then how does that not make your criteria arbitrary when you apply it to Genesis?

                      When you said, “I find it ironic that those who argue viewing the Bible from the culture in which it was directed towards, are the ones bringing a modern scientific theory into the text.” Well, that’s not entirely true. At least, that isn’t the case for John Walton (I hope you read his book, it’ was very well written, and makes some very good points). In any case, advocates of TE don’t read that into the text, they say that the text isn’t a scientific or historic account or origins. In this sense, understanding modern science as well as the ANE context of Genesis (and the rest of the OT and much of the NT as well!) go hand in hand. Can you explain how
                      that’s ironic?
                      What about TE is being read into the text? That would be scientific accordism (which posits that anything in the BIble has a correlation, or accords, to modern science). Believers and advocates of TE do not read it into the text – they say the text isn’t a scientific, historic account. That’s simply not the same thing. Ironically, many people who hold to YEC, or a more literal reading of Genesis in general, are more likely to fall prey to scientific accordism than anyone who holds to TE or old-earth.
                      I’m sorry that you find evolution ridiculous, but the vast majority of people (including Christian scientists, by the way) say exactly that about people who interpret the Genesis creation narrative as a scientific or historical account. It’s not just secular atheists. Christian OT scholars think that interpretation is anachronistic, and fails to take into account the relevant evidence. So please keep in mind that plenty of people, including brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t see it that way, and believe the evidence in support of their view is overwhelming in comparison to any other view.

                    • Johnny Mason April 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

                      @Joshua – thanks for your response.

                      “What about things like pillars supporting the earth, and a firmament (dome) holding back the rain, and separating earth (creations domain) and the heavens (Gods domain). What is the plain, commonsense, straightforward reading of those texts?”

                      Lets take the pillars of the earth as a case. It appears in Job, Psalms, and 1 Sam 2. Those are the instances I know of. Job is a poetic book with lots of poetic imagery, Psalms as well. The instance in 1 Samuel is said during Hannah’s very poetic prayer. So the context of when these things are said does matter. Just because Psalms says the Lord own the sheep on a thousand hills, doesnt mean He literally has 1000 hills. We understand it as poetic.

                      “you would not hold to consistently across scripture.”

                      Now as far as consistency with Scripture, the Bible views the events of Gen 1 as actually happening and not as allegorical. Jesus is in the genealogical line of Adam, Paul in Romans 5 refers to Adam as “one man” and as a historical figure in contrast to Christ (another historical figure). 1 Cor 15 speaks of the “first man Adam”. The bible tells us that death came through sin and sin through Adam. All of the Scriptures support a historical Adam.

                      Jesus says in Mark 10:6 “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female”, not millions of years later. Death is a necessity for evolution to occur, but the Bible clearly states that death is the result of sin, and that through Adam.

                      Of course the Bible is not a scientific text book, but the Bible does make truth claims and science does seek out truth, so there are times when their paths will cross. Science says man cannot walk on water, or turn water into wine, or raise the dead, but the Bible clearly says otherwise. Why is the miracle of resurrection clearly OK for those who are TE, but the miracle of creation is not? Why is exceptionally strong scientific evidence that says resurrection is an impossibility ignored, but the weaker scientific evidence for evolution and origins seen as absolute truth?

                      Would not the miracles that Jesus performed relativize the importance and use of tangible, empirical evidence AS tangible, empirical evidence? It seems that only the miracle of creation is to be doubted and allegorized away.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

                      Johnny,

                      I’m not sure I have time to fully state my disagreement with your last response. I hope you’ll understand, but it’s a busy time for me, so I don’t have as much time as I would have liked. I’ll just state my main disagreements, and if you want to respond so be it, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to respond in kind.

                      Concerning your case study of the pillars of the earth, I’m not sure that’s helpful. Taking them one by one, and relativizing their interpretation as “poetic” a) logically applies to the Genesis creation narrative as well, since many have argued this, too, is an ANE poem, b) simply does not apply to 1 Enoch where the cosmology is consistent with the other OT cosmological texts and is NOT poetic, c) overlooks the fact that the cosmology in the OT is coherent even if it is scattered throughout different texts, and d) pays lip service to the fact that not all poetry is simply metaphorical by virtue of its being poetic (there is such a thing as a historical poem).

                      By the logic of point a and d above, Genesis should not be understood as scientific or historical because it is, as many have stated, a poem (or do you believe in a literal firmament – a dome separating heaven from earth and holding back the waters above? Do you believe, as in the Genesis creation narrative, that waters preceded creation?). As per point b and c, the pillars, the firmament, the storehouses, the luminaries – they didn’t think of these things arbitrarily; rather, they sought to organize them into a coherent cosmology (hence 1 Enoch). Here is the challenge: Can you do for EVERY other cosmological claim (I think there are about 70 in all) what you have tried to do with the concept of pillars? Can you give a coherent explanation of those texts?

                      As I have already stated, the problem here is you’re not establishing a criteria for discerning which is which, and consequently have to relativize each text that would be too ridiculous for you to believe while affirming other texts that, however ridiculous they are, need to be believed because apparently people in the NT believed them, too. The NT use of the OT is too complicated for me to get involved with here, but I don’t think it’s as simple as Paul seemed to affirm it, therefore it happened.

                      I’m not going to respond to any of your comments about the miraculous because 1) it’s beside the point here, and 2) the reasoning is fallacious (have you read C.S. Lewis’ “Miracles”?) The text does not prove or dis-prove TE (and I’m sorry if that’s what you took from any of my other comments)- it doesn’t talk about material origins AT ALL.

                    • Johnny Mason April 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

                      @Joshua – thanks for your response. I am actually open to the idea of Genesis as poetic in nature (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has a definite allegorical sound to it), but I have yet to be convinced of this fact, simply because there does not appear to be a break in the narrative to go from allegory/poetry to a more historical narrative, plus the fact that Adam is viewed throughout the Bible as a historical figure.

                      I have never read Enoch, so I cannot really comment on what it says, but it is not canon nor was it considered inspired by the Jews.

                      – “do you believe in a literal firmament – a dome separating heaven from earth and holding back the waters above?” Yes, there is evidence to support this idea in the flood story and could explain how there could have been that much water to cover the whole earth.

                      – “Do you believe, as in the Genesis creation narrative, that waters preceded creation?” If you are referring to Genesis 1:2, then yes.

                      I brought up the miracles to refute the idea that God creating the universe as mature would “relativize the importance and use of tangible, empirical evidence AS tangible, empirical evidence”, because the miracles do the exactly that but do not receive this same objection.

                      In regards to relativing texts, I think both camps do this. You see me as relativing these cosmological texts to bolster my beliefs and I see the same thing in those arguing about what Paul says in regards to creation, sin, death, and Adam. I know that we are both seeking to know the truth and I hope we all use discussions like this to challenge us, read the Scriptures, and seek the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

                      Johnny,

                      Thanks. Again, very little time.

                      1 Enoch was considered canonical by SOME Jews, and it was furthermore accepted as canonical by many in the early church, but then later excluded (for reasons I don’t remember). It’s not part of OUR canon. But, at least Jude seems to treat it as scripture, and that is significant seeing as Jude is part of our NT canon.

                      You may have pointed out a flaw in believing in the miracles of Jesus (including the resurrection), but denying YEC or a historical Adam on the basis of scientific evidence. However, you have not countered the claim that your mentality does not relativize the importance and use of scientific inquiry. In fact, you’ve confirmed its ultimate irrelevance in much of what you have posted here.

                      Again, thanks. Gotta go.

                    • Johnny Mason April 14, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

                      I have much respect for science and the scientific method, but its not perfect so when science and God’s Word conflict, the Word wins.

                    • Kenneth Ross April 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

                      (tried to post here, but it ended way back up the thread – weird! – now cutting and pasting)

                      This is a long thread, but one I have followed with a certain interest. I am a scientist by training, with a background in molecular genetics. I am now by God’s grace a pastor and teacher. I have lost nothing of my fascination with life science, but always have, and always will approach science from the same viewpoint you take, Johnny. Scientific opinion and knowledge is open to error; the Word of God is not. We all choose a standard; for me, that standard is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. That’s what everything else must measure up to.

                      Reply

                    • Don Johnson April 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

                      Hi Kenneth,

                      Science is always open to error. Even granting the claim that the word of God is not, humans still need to interpret it and that is also open to human error.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 18, 2012 at 1:01 am #

                      Kenneth,

                      I have written a response to Johnny above, and have essentially echoed Don’s thought below. In short, I don’t think it’s as easy as “scripture tromps science.” I personally don’t know what I make about innerancy (at least as it is defined by the Chicago Statement; cf. Christian Smith, “The Bible Made Impossible), but that’s neither here nor there. Even if I grant innerancy, that still doesn’t change the fact that Biblical interpretation is just a errant and fallible as any other human undertaking, including science.

                    • Kenneth Ross April 18, 2012 at 8:50 am #

                      HI Joshua

                      Thanks for taking the time to respond both to Johnny and myself. I don’t really know anything of Johnny’s background, but what I see this series of posts coming down to is not a TE /YEC debate, but more an issue of how we view the scriptures. You and Don see it one way; Johnny and I see things differently.

                      Biblical Innerrancy is one of my foundational pre-suppositions, and the rest of my worldview builds upon that bedrock.

                      I don’t wish to prolong this thread, for, as I have said – it started out dealing with TE matters, but now seems to be moving toward our understanding of scripture.

                      I don’t think that was Denny’s original intention in making the OP, so I’ll bow out.

                      Kind regards

                      Kenneth Ross

                    • Don Johnson April 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

                      Here is the famous/infamous Article XII of CSBI:

                      Article XII

                      We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

                      We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

                      ===================
                      It is the very last sentence that ties the word inerrancy as a concept in some Christian circles with certain ways (plural, including YEC and OEC) of reading the Bible but not other ways (EC/TE), as intended by the signers of the CSBI. But there is no inherent reason why this should be the case, in other places the CSBI acknowledges the importance of genre determination, why not also is this critical for the creation and flood texts?

                      In other words, as the time the CSBI was written, the signers wanted to “put a stake in the ground” that certain ways of reading the Bible were acceptable (even tho they might not agree with each other on some aspects, such as YEC and OEC) but that other ways were NOT acceptable (EC/TE). In other words, the CSBI is a historically contingent document put out by a group that perceived a threat to their preferred way of reading the Bible (and specifically certain sections of the Bible) and they wanted to stop that perceived threat.

                      My point is that it is inevitable that discussions of TE will get into discussions of inerrancy, since the CSBI wanted to bind them closely together.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 18, 2012 at 12:55 am #

                      Hey Johnny,

                      I had a little more time since I last responded to think about what you wrote, and it occurred to me that your last response (ie. “I am actually open to the idea of Genesis as poetic in nature”) just brings us right back to the question of how to interpret the other cosmological texts throughout scripture (which concern everything from the firmament, to a geo-centric, most likely flat earth).

                      Concerning the responses by you and Kenneth (mainly Kenneth, I think), concerning scripture tromping science (if you’ll allow that phrase), I have to agree with Don. The problem we’re faced with is ultimately that of interpretation. God speaks through the scriptures, just as He spoke through the prophets and the Biblical writers – I certainly believe that. He also created nature, however, so it follows in my mind that what He created and what He says would not contradict one another. Indeed, nature should vindicate God (in the sense of demonstrating is complexity, intelligence, as well as His utter otherness).

                      Therefore, when it comes to science and scripture – both involve human, fallible interpretation. So when someone has a particular view of scripture, and then superimposes that on other subjects like science, in effect they’re saying, “I got it right. I understand what it says, and that validates my rejection of this or that.” It places a little too much confidence in humanity, which is ironically what Evangelicals criticize secular scientists for.

                      More to the point, however, is the fact that I am sympathetic to TE (I am not sure frankly – I’m no scientist and haven’t studied the subject as much as I would like), has more to do with my understanding of Genesis in the ANE context. In other words, understanding the text on its own terms is first and foremost in my mind. I’m only sympathetic to TE because I’m not convinced that it’s the point of Genesis, and consequently, that it’s heterodox or leads to heterodoxy.

                      I respect your grasp of the theological issues – those are definitely problems, but others have noted the same and I think you should read how they deal with that before you write it off.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

                      Oh, I forgot to say, thank you for your response, you made many good points, and it was a pleasure to have a civil discussion with you about this.

                    • Joshua Wooden April 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

                      But I have to say as a follow up that this is, as I said explicitly: secondary. The primary issue (and I mentioned this in my last response) is this: the criteria that many employ in interpreting Genesis are ultimately arbitrary and can’t be held to CONSISTENTLY given the weight of other cosmological texts that are NOT interpreted literally. In other words, the primary issue concerns the actual text, not science. It is for that reason that I said it is secondary. It is only after one establishes the text as a historical, scientific narrative, that one can refute modern science on Biblical/theological grounds.

              • Joshua Wooden April 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

                Thanks for your response, but I’m not convinced that’s true. 1 Enoch presents a unified cosmology, and that book was unquestionably important for the NT writers, not to mention it reveals that their were plenty of people who did believe in the cosmology set out by modern illustrations.

                Regardless, the fact still remains that, even if we didn’t have 1 Enoch, and didn’t rely on illustrations of composite texts, we would still have to contend with the fact that the texts are there, and this raises the critical issue of how these texts should be interpreted given the fact that Genesis is interpreted so literally.

                I have to admit, here, that I’m a little tired and lethargic, so I don’t know how much sense I’m making. I don’t think you and I really disagree all that much (do you hold to YEC personally?), so I want my criticisms to be primarily directed against YEC, represented by Mohler above.

                What I’m trying to say, here (in the end, even if I didn’t make this clear at first), is that the interpretation of Genesis as a literal, scientific, historical account of origins seems to empoly the most arbitrary criteria, doesn’t really stand the weight of scrutiny, even if alternative views have some problems theologically.

                • G. Kyle Essary April 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

                  I’m not YEC. I’m pretty much agnostic on the whole issue, and most concerned with understanding the Hebrew text. I think it’s a theological account, presented from a phenomenological perspective.

  7. Jerry Corbaley April 12, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    Hey Guys,

    “I am the Lord your God, who……made you walk erect”.
    Leviticus 26:13 ESV ins

    Are you following any Biblical direction in interpreting Genesis in this way?

    • Don Johnson April 12, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      The short answer is we are trying our best to understand Genesis in its original cultural context, which is how any text should be understood to primarily mean. That is, God came down to the level of humans in inspiring Scripture, and not just any humans but humans who were the original hearers/readers, in the case of Genesis Bronze Age Israelites, and accomodated to their understandings, else they would not have understood it.

      For example, the sun and the moon are “lights in the sky” since that is how they appeared to them (and to us, altho we may know they are giant balls of gas and rock, respectively). Part of what God communicated is that those lights were created things and NOT “gods”, this was truly revolutionary in its time (we take it for granted and can miss how revolutionary this claim really was).

  8. Daryl Little April 13, 2012 at 12:58 am #

    “I see the Gen 2-4 stories as similar to parables, they are true because they are true for everyone, every one of us has the potential to act like one of the characters in the stories because of our choices, to make good choices and bad choices, to be deceived and thereby sin (like the woman) or to sin deliberately (like the man) or to plot to sin (like Cain) or to even teach others to sin (like the serpent).”

    So…I’m a sinner by nature (before I even have a chance to sin) because some guy, in a made up story, did something that the story-teller said that he shouldn’t do?

    Seriously?

    As Al Mohler said, the science changes. The real issue is answering the theological question.

    Claiming that Genesis is a parable and that a 1st century Jew didn’t mean what I mean when he said “In Adam all died” is inching perilously close to heresy.

    Believing that Genesis doesn’t mean what it seems to say is not heresy per se, but, , cutting the roots from out of the trees makes for a very unhealthy tree.

  9. Michael Lynch April 13, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    There was some talk of God being deceptive. It would be deceptive, cruel even, for God to give us the words that he did in Genesis, allow the church to believe the plain interpretation for thousands of years, and only tell us that is the wrong interpretation through “science” in the last 200 years.

    There is no reason God could not have written Genesis in a way that plainly told us there was a long period of time leading up to Adam. My God is not a God of confusion. Those who want to change Genesis are being either deceptive or compromising. The sad thing is that you are trying compromise with atheists who have no intention of doing likewise. You look no wiser for holding to their “science” while believing in the Christ of the Bible.

  10. Michael Lynch April 13, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    There was some talk of God being deceptive. It would be deceptive, cruel even, for God to give us the words that he did in Genesis, allow the church to believe the plain interpretation for thousands of years, and only tell us that is the wrong interpretation through “science” in the last 200 years.

    There is no reason God could not have written Genesis in a way that plainly told us there was a long period of time leading up to Adam. My God is not a God of confusion. Those who want to change Genesis are being either deceptive or compromising. The sad thing is that you are trying compromise with atheists who have no intention of doing likewise. You look no wiser for holding to their “science” while believing in the Christ of the Bible.

    • Don Johnson April 13, 2012 at 11:36 am #

      Michael,

      There is not an atheistic science and a theistic science, there is only science. It is the same science for everyone. Just because some scientists extend their science into scientism and atheism is no reason for others to do so, or not do so. Just because some scientists are also believers is not a reason to be a believer either. The reason to be a believer is because of the gospel.

      Also, it is simply not true that there has been one long record in the church on how to interpret Genesis, your statement that this is the case just means you need to investigate why this is not the case so that you will better know what you are discussing.

      • Michael Lynch April 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

        You’re right that I shouldn’t have made it sound like there has only been one strict interpretation leading up to false science.

  11. Michael Lynch April 13, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    A related post: http://www.dougwils.com/Evolution/does-tim-keller-live-on-an-old-earth.html

  12. Kenneth Ross April 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    This is a long thread, but one I have followed with a certain interest. I am a scientist by training, with a background in molecular genetics. I am now by God’s grace a pastor and teacher. I have lost nothing of my fascination with life science, but always have, and always will approach science from the same viewpoint you take, Johnny. Scientific opinion and knowledge is open to error; the Word of God is not. We all choose a standard; for me, that standard is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. That’s what everything else must measure up to.

  13. Adam Omelianchuk April 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    “I have much respect for science and the scientific method, but its not perfect so when science and God’s Word conflict, the Word wins.”

    That isn’t really a fair fight, though. The book of Scripture and the book of Nature do not conflict, because they have the same author. The real question is what to do when science and theology conflict, as both are human interpretations of the God-authored books. How do you resolve conflicts? Saying that theological interpretation is more reliable than scientific interpretation will not do. All one has to do is point to Galileo to see why that is embarrassingly false.

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