Thursday, May 26, 2011

What is Theology?: Creationism?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Gen. 1:1

I'm sure you've all heard this verse before. It's not only the start of the book we base our faith on, but it's the beginning of a chapter in the Bible that has been the center of over a century of debate. I'm sure not a single one of my Christian readers hasn't heard or participated in a discussion about the six days of creation.

I don't want to make this post longer than it has to be, however, it's looking like it will be longer than most, so I'm simply going to do my best to summarize the different positions concerning how Genesis 1 should be read. Then I'll give a basic summary on where I stand and what is truly important for the Christian to hold onto in this debate... as well as what is not. I'll do my best to do justice to the views I mention, however, in order to confirm all I am saying, I recommend you read some of the writings of those who hold to the various positions.

The first of these position and possibly the most well known among Christians is the literal six days of creation view. This can be summarized easily. Read Genesis 1 and listen to the words. Did you read it? Good, that's what happened. God spoke and things came into being. The days were actual 24 hour periods and this view usually also holds that the earth is between 6,000 and 15,000 years old, depending on how you interpret the genealogies throughout the Old Testament.

Next, there is what many call the old earth creationism theory. If memory serves me right, this is usually accompanied by the day/age argument. Basically this view states that the word "day" can be interpreted as a 24 hour day, or it can mean a period of time, perhaps thousands or even millions of years. This theory makes room for the claims of science that it took far longer than 15,000 years for things like the Grand Canyon to come about.

Next, there is what some call gap theory. Those who argue this position point out that there seems to be a pause between verse one and verse two. In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth... aaaaand verse 2. Therefore, perhaps God created everything, and then spent six days "ordering" creation. This allows for a literal six days, but allows the age of the earth to remain open for discussion.

Next, there is theistic evolution theory. In this view, it is believed that Genesis 1 ought to be read poetically. It is simply an ancient writing of the Hebrews that was never intended to be taken literally. In reality, we should trust what scientists are saying today and assume that God got the ball rolling and allowed evolution to bring the existence of life into being.

The final view I will mention is probably one that many of you have never heard of. Up until my time at Nyack, I had never heard of it, but then my New Testament Greek teacher had me read "The Lost World of Genesis 1" by John Walton. In this book, Walton points out problems with gap theory as well as day/age theory. He points out that in the grammar of the Hebrew, there is in fact no room for a chronological "gap" between verse 1 and verse 2. In fact, a better translation would perhaps be, "When God began to create the Heavens and the Earth, the Earth was formless and void." Some would perhaps say, "wild and waist" rather than "formless and void."

Not only does this remove the possibility of a gap, but it raises another difficult question. How was the earth "wild and waist" as God began to create it? A non-existent earth has no characteristics. He also explains that he sees no way that the six days would be translated any other way than literally. Day may be able to mean age in some contexts, but the Hebrew does not allow for it in this case.

Therefore, instead of getting caught up in how long the days were, he calls another Hebrew word into question, and he makes some interesting discoveries. The word he researches is the Hebrew word that we translate as "create." What he asserts is that because the earth obviously existed before God "created" it, create may in fact have a more nuanced meaning. God most certainly brought the earth and everything else into "existence," but pehaps that's not the event that Genesis 1 is outlining for us. What he does then is research the other instances where this word appears in the Old Testament and he also looks at creation accounts from cultures that Israel may have been familiar with. Not that these other writings are inspired, but he shows how reading them may give us clarity as to the mindset God was speaking to when he revealed himself to Israel.

What he shows is that in Israel's culture and understanding, they had no interest in the material origins of creation, but rather in its functional origin. What on earth does that mean? Well, Walton shows that in all of the clear instances that the Hebrew word for "create" is used, it is not in fact used to show when something came into existence. In actuality, it is usually used to show when something is given a function. For example, when someone is made into a king, he is changing from one role to another. It is like the difference between building a building, and making that building into a factory. It was in existence before it became a factory, but it did not "exist" as such.

Walton basically shows that in the ancient world that Israel would have known, creation accounts were mainly concerned with their god or gods inaugurating a cosmic temple, which is why this is often called "temple inauguration" theory. Therefore when you read these other accounts, Israel's account has similarities, but makes vastly different claims. Their God is shown to be almighty above all other gods. There are none who compete with him. The universe was not ordered out of conflict between gods but out of the almighty God's divine creative will.

So, where does this theory leave us in terms of evolution? What Walton points out is that in the end, if Genesis was in fact intended to be read as he believes it was, then it doesn't say much about evolution at all. What was going on before or during God's inauguration of the universe can only be theorized about. But wait! Many of you might ask, what about Genesis 2 and the literal creation of Adam? if Adam wasn't literally created as the first man who fell, then why would we need Jesus? I'll get to this in a moment.

So where do I stand with all this? Let me say right off the bat that I don't believe in evolution. As far as I can tell, it looks like the theory was brought about in order to disprove the need for a God. I want to make that clear because some of the other things I'm about to say may sound like I feel differently.

For the most part, I would have to say that John Walton's research seems to show the most respect for and research into the Hebrew culture and language for which Genesis 1 was written. But again, what does he think about the creation of Adam? He does mention this in the book, and as far as I can tell he believes in Adam as a historical person. I have no doubt that he is sound in his theology of the fall and our need for a savior. How does he reconcile leaving evolution open as a possibilty and having Adam actually exist?

There are two ways that this can work. Some theorize that God allowed humans to evolve and eventually declared Adam to be the one who would bear his image. It was after this that Adam fell. Believe it or not, C.S. Lewis was a theistic evolutionist and this was the view that he took. If you'd like to read it in his words, you should pick up a copy of "The Problem of Pain" and give it a look. It's a pretty good read. The other possibility and the one I would side with is that God, if the animals were created by evolution, created Adam separate from other creatures. In my view, this makes sense. It seems more faithful to scripture that evolution or no evolution, we look at the Genesis 2 account of God literally creating Adam from the dust of the earth as being true.

So what do I think you should take from this? In the end I think that the most important things we hold onto doctrinally are that God is both creator and sustainer of the universe. Secondly I believe that no matter what, we must maintain that Adam was a historical figure and that we are still in need of a savior because of his sin. However, I think that it is important to realize that evolution, if the theory was in fact created to combat Genesis 1, was invented to combat a "literal six days of material creation" understanding, which I believe has been shown to neglect the original Hebrew mindset. Because of this, I don't think we should feel the least bit threatened by evolution theory when scientists who hold to it claim they have found new evidence. In the end I think evolution is false and many of its researchers are in fact hostile towards Christianity, but I would have to say now that my objections are scientific and not biblical.

In the end, I think it is important that we keep the fight where it should be. For a long time we have combated evolution in the school system. This may have merit if in fact evolution is based on faulty science. However, perhaps the more important battle is the one we ought to have against the "materialistic" mindset that is alsmost always coupled with evolution theory. The philosophy that says that this universe and the matter within it is all there is. There is no supernatural. There is nothing beyond. There is no creator. There is no sustainer. Our objections shouldn't solely be based on the "method" in which the universe came into being. Far more important is that we defend the fact that the universe has purpose behind it.

No matter how far out we look into space, we will not see heaven. No matter how deep we look into the microscope, we will not see little signitures on atoms that say, "property of the creative Word of God." For too long we've been accused of making God a filler for natural occurances we don't understand, and often this accusation is true. We should realize that science will never see God if they are not open to the possibility of his excistence from the start. The question is never "what" or "who" did it? Science can't answer that. They can only describe what is. Our job as Christians is to recognize the beauty and complexity of creation as science discovers it, and choose to be the ones who believe it has purpose. Science is in charge of the what, we are the proclaimers of the why.

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