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so what’s the problem?

Evolution 2

[NOTE: This blog post pairs with our ORIGINS teaching series at The Meeting House, Week 1: Love’s Great Choice. If you haven’t heard that message, you might want to begin there before reading on here.]

I hope you, like me, base your faith on Jesus – not young-earth-creationism or old-earth-evolution or Intelligent-Design or any other origin theory.

This disposition allows us to follow the evidence wherever it leads concerning how or how long God created. Our faith does not stand or fall on any particular interpretation of Genesis 1 since our faith is in Jesus, through whom God made the universe (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2).

That said, it seems fairly evident from the text of Genesis that the six “days” of creation are not required to be understood as literal 24 hour chunks of time. I’m not contrasting the Bible VS science – I’m referring to what the biblical text itself is saying.

As we learned in our Sunday teaching at The Meeting House…

  • The sun and moon, from which we get our 24 hour cycle, weren’t created until the fourth “day”.
  • The sixth “day” in chapter 2 seems longer than 12 hours of daylight – how could 12 or 24 hours be enough time to create animals, then create Eden, then create Adam and place him in Eden, then instruct him on gardening and the moral decision of avoiding the which tree and why, then have time to name all living animals, take a nap, and meet his new bride? Just the animal naming alone must have taken months. “Day” six seems like a longer period of time.
  • The seventh “day” of rest has no “evening and morning” and instead seems to be ongoing, even today, and we are invited to enter into God’s sabbath rest (see Hebrews 4).
  • And most straightforwardly, the word “day” (yom in Hebrew) is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to indeterminate, often much longer, periods of time (e.g., Genesis 2:4; Exodus 2:11; Job 24:6; Proverbs 25:13), like we might say “back in the day”.

So, why not just go with an old Earth theory as the most faithful to Scripture? Why not accept the idea that God created life on our planet through the long process of evolution?

Recently our twelve-year-old daughter, Maya, came to me with her first “crisis of faith”. She explained, “I know that evolution is supposed to work over millions of years, but the Bible says God made everything in six days. So, what’s up with that?”

After I celebrated her astute observation and critical thinking, we sat down and opened the Bible together and I pointed out some of the above points about how the Bible uses the word “day”. Then I also drew her attention to the order of creation in Genesis 1: first inorganic matter, then life begins, starting with plants, then life in the seas, then birds, then mammals, and finally humans. We talked about the possibility that God is very smart at explaining the process of evolution in a way that all people of all times could understand. Maya thinks God is pretty cool.

But was I right? Some Christians, including many that I respect and admire as followers of Jesus, would argue against what I taught Maya. They would contend that evolution necessarily contradicts the Bible. And why is that? Why not just accept current scientific consensus? What’s the problem?

The problem can be summed up in one word…

DEATH.

Twice in the New Testament (Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 44-49) the apostle Paul says that death entered the world when Adam and Eve sinned. See here…

 Just as through one human being sin came into the world, and death came through sin, so death has come to everyone, because everyone has sinned. Although sin was in the world, since there was no Law, it wasn’t taken into account until the Law came. But death ruled from Adam until Moses, even over those who didn’t sin in the same way Adam did—Adam was a type of the one who was coming.
(Romans 5:12-14)

That seems pretty straightforward. And pretty significant. Entire theories of how sin works and how atonement works have been built around the idea of a literal Adam being the literal entrance point for human sin, which opens the door for literal death to enter an otherwise perfect world. There is a lot riding on this. And I can understand why. If we take Paul at face value, then the idea of millions of years of “survival of the fittest” leading up to Adam and Eve, with lots of death as part of that necessary machinery,  is impossible for a Bible-believing Christian to embrace.

Unless…

It may be possible, even probable, that the apostle Paul is referring to spiritual death – our separation from the God of life. That seems to be the kind of death God is talking about in Genesis. Remember that Adam was told that if he ate from the bad tree, “on that day” he would surely die.

From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. (Genesis 2:17)

Except, he didn’t.

Or did he?

On that day Adam ran from God, hid in the bushes, and accused both God and his new wife of causing his condition. The separation was real. Adam did die, in a way. And it was caused by the always-separating force of sin.

A spiritual death makes sense of the Genesis account, otherwise you have God promising a physical death that never comes when God promises it will come. And if spiritual death is the immediate consequence for sin in Genesis (followed by a later physical death because of being barred from the Tree of Life), then it follows that this spiritual death is what Paul has in mind as well when he’s talking about Adam and Eve. Scripture is consistent.

This opens up the door for a Bible-believing Christian to embrace the possibility of evolution as a tool God used to create the varieties of life on planet Earth. Do I believe this is the best route forward? I don’t know. Discovering the Bible’s openness to an old earth answers some questions while raising others…

Do we consider death and pain “good” parts of creation? Is Eden merely God’s good greenhouse in the middle of a planet marred by suffering and death? Were Adam and Eve commissioned to go out from Eden and rule over the rest of creation in order to help it become more Edenic?

It’s worth noting that the Hebrew word for “good” that God uses to describe his creation in the first chapter of Genesis is different than the word for “perfect” or “sinless”. In fact, in the last chapter of Genesis, this same word for “good” is used to by Joseph to describe a series of evil things that God intended for a loving purpose.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)

Perhaps God’s creation was “good” because it was accomplishing what he wanted it to bring about.

Still, this leaves us with the question: Why would God choose to use the death and suffering inherent in the system of evolution to create his “good” world? Is it possible that the destructive power of sin was at work well before the time of Adam and Eve? Is evolution an example of God bringing good out of evil, like in the story of Joseph? Should we think of the real “Fall” from grace as the fall of Satan from heaven to our primordial planet Earth long before Adam and Eve were created?

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
(Revelation 12:9)

Is your head spinning yet? Many of us are still sorting this all through. And without any threat to our faith, which is built upon the solid rock of Christ and his teaching (Matthew 7:24-27).

Yes, at this point, there are more questions than answers, but that’s exactly what we should expect if the apostle Paul was right when he said…

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

For now, we can be confident of the most important take-aways from Genesis 1…

  1. God is good, artistic, and loving.
  2. God (Father, Son, and Spirit) made us all to be like God, to love and create like God, and to do it all in partnership with God.
  3. Humans have a mission, a calling, a purpose: to represent God – his love and creativity and care – to this world.
  4. The seventh day is open-ended and ongoing. And, according to Hebrews 4, we are invited to enter into God’s sabbath rest with him.
  5. The story of Adam and Eve is not just an origins story, but also our story, repeated by us in every generation. We know better, and still we choose the selfish pursuit of our own pleasure at the expense of others people and our planet.

About that last point – notice that our guilt is not just something we can blame our parents (or ancient ancestors) for, because we repeat the story of Adam and Eve again and again, failing to make better choices than they did. Remember what the apostle Paul says in that Romans 5 passage…

Just as through one human being sin came into the world, and death came through sin, so death has come to everyone, because everyone has sinned. (Romans 5:12)

In the end, we can’t blame Adam and Eve, or Mom and Dad. The story of Genesis is the story of us.

Whether you believe in a young or old Earth, a literal or figurative Adam, or a geographical or metaphorical Eden, I’m looking forward to interacting with you during this series of blog posts, Sunday sermons, and Home Church discussions. To that end, I’m looking forward to your comments to this post at the bottom of this page!

I hope we all, with inquisitive and curious kindness, enjoy the journey of seeking answers, together.

Peace,

PS: For the keeners, here’s a starter pack of some extra reading resources…

  • Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? (Three Views), Counterpoints Series
  • The Historical Adam (Four Views), Counterpoints Series
  • Death Before The Fall, by Ronald F. Osborn
  • Adam and the Genome, by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight
  • The Lost World of Genesis One, by John H. Walton
  • The Lost World of Adam and Eve, by John H. Walton
  • God Against Religion, by Matthew Myer Boulton
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Genesis and Human Origins.  Wipf&Stock, 2016, by Luke Janssen – a scientist and a Christian (but not a Christian Scientist) in our own Hamilton, Ontario!

Enjoy!

Tags : AdamAdam and EveCreationDeathedenEveEvolutionGenesis

22 Comments

  1. It’s interesting that you are going through this topic again as I am just so impressed with what might be the original discussion by Bruny on the subject in a podcast quite a few years ago. (It has Darwin in the title if I remember right) I have listened to that podcast maybe 8 times, the last just a few weeks ago as it is so revolutionary to me after growing up in the Plymouth Brethren church in Australia and their teaching. That’s so much for your work Bruxy, I have been downloading every podcast of yours for many many years listening to the at lunchtime at work. Your talks are an inspiration to me and very helpful.
    Tim from Tasmania Australia.

  2. Hi Bruxy,

    This blog is so refreshing in its lack of dogmatism and admission that not all questions have clear answers. Having followed the ‘origins debate’ for many years, I am rather tired of creationists slamming those with other views as being compromisers, and also tired of evolutionists (Christian or not) slamming creationists as ridiculous quacks. I am a scientist and Christian, and some of the main reasons I still lean towards the creationist viewpoint are well described in your blog (the biblical reasons anyway).

    In terms of death only referring to a spiritual death, this is a sticking point for me and I admit I don’t find this convincing (yet – open to be convinced). e.g. How do we fit that with Genesis 3:19 (“to dust you will return” – as a consequence of sin which seems to indicate physical death) and Colossians 1:22 (“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight” – also suggests Jesus’ physical death was important, otherwise Jesus would only have had to die a spiritual death to save us??)

    In terms of interpreting the first few chapters of Genesis as poetry or allegory rather than history, how does that fit with Genesis 2:10-14 (geographical comments about rivers and natural resources – seems weird if not intended as history)?

    This reply is too long already 🙂 Thanks again Bruxy

    1. Jonomyn, good comments. I am on a similar wavelength. To your question, consider Paul’s comment in Romans 7: “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” Paul died. He is clearly talking about spiritual death. I have been thinking about these matters for some time and it seems to me that, horrible as it is from our perspective, physical death just doesn’t stack up in importance very much in comparison with spiritual death. That helps me understand and accept that physical death is part of the physical evolutionary process whereby we came about. ( I think this also ties into freewill somehow). This also fits with martyrdom being a logical thing to accept under the right circumstances, for the Christian, because we understand physical death to be a transition. This is also why the early church called it “ falling asleep”.
      Hope those comments are helpful.
      Peace

  3. Hi Bruxy
    I’m a retired engineer now and I’ve been dabbling in origins science/theology for years. I’ve noticed that the more we dig into the sub atomic, quantum levels the weirder and more mysterious things get. Similarly as we look out into the vast cosmos. Even more so as we discover the inner workings of a cell showing complex ‘factory’ like automation and the multiple levels of coding in DNA etc. The more we know the closer we get to mystery. Where the finite meets the infinite. Ps 8 , pPs 139-14 As a believer in God of course this is to be expected Col 1:15,-17, Rom 1:19-20. For the atheist the mystery results in many long winded and fantastical explanations as to how life arose or anything exists at all and how we even have minds to consider these things. Looking forward to this series. Blessings

    Tom (we met at Unbeliveable, I’m the guy with the Aussie accent) 😀

  4. Hey Bruxy, the issue I struggle with when trying to hold both the creation narrative and evolution together as equally plausible and valid explanations of how human life arrived on this planet is this: evolution only seeks to explain the biology of life. It does not explain the psychology or spirituality of life.

    The very fact we can debate and disagree and there are counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers and theologians (thanks Bruxy) is proof to me that we’re more than simply physical living organisms. The presence of professions beyond medical doctors attending to our physical health strongly supports the ‘theory’ that humans are tripartite beings comprising body, soul AND spirit.

    Evolutionary theory is noticeably silent on the subject of how the human soul (psyche) and spirit evolve and form. This absence is vacuous and dissatisfying, and leads to mental gymnastics and tensions extraordinaire as I seek to reconcile the theory with the reality of human life as we know and experience it here and now.

    Ah and there’s art, theatre, drama, film, games, and the role of diplomacy and international relations to help steer our planet away from the brink of destruction. Pure evolutionary theory doesn’t fully explain the human condition to my satisfaction.

    And the fact that humans as the highest and most advanced species have devised the potential for total global destruction and annihilation, and we continue to wreak havoc on the environment we all rely on to survive, seems to fly counter to the ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘will to survive’ tenants that underpin the theory. There appears instead to be something rather sinister and pernicious at work in opposition to the theory, causing me to search for a wholistic explanation of who we are and how we got here. Enter Jesus.

    The theory of evolution as the origin of species doesn’t begin to explain why so many are engaged in and/or animated, agitated, encouraged and passionate about this current series on Origins! Thanks so much Bruxy for shedding light and generating helpful and healthy discussion on this important subject!

  5. Animals were vegetarian in Eden.
    Gen. 1:30

    And will be again in the new Earth.
    Isaiah 11:6&7

    People didn’t eat meat until after the Flood. Gen. 9:3

  6. very interesting and helpful Bruzy, we or I need to reminded that we are the adam and eve, sinners, repeating, , good on you, nice way to inform!

  7. Looking forward to the whole series. I find this topic fascinating but perhaps more fascinating is watching Christians with opposing viewpoints work to keep the unity or not. Lots to learn on how to be charitable and Christ-like in our disagreements.

    I just listen to Tim Mackie’s (The Bible Project) podcast episode called Science and Faith. He does a great job teaching about the ancient Hebrew culture and the surrounding cultures and how Genesis 1 should be read in that context. Very helpful! Highly recommended for anyone wanting to dive deeper into this topic.

    Podcast: Exploring My Strange Bible
    Episode: Science and Faith— Aug 16, 2017

    1. Hi NATHAÑEL – thank you so much for sharing this excellent interview with three brilliant scientists dedicated to answering life’s big questions! It’s fascinating to see how they all humbly (to one degree or another) lean towards mystery over mastery. I especially enjoyed their discussion on mind and consciousness. Very, very helpful dialogue indeed.

  8. Nice post Bruxy! Gen 1 & 2 is deep—waters deep. Not always clear how the ancients saw existence but Gen 1 core still holds water for us (in the firmament of course). Many of us only have a peep hole to this light of Gen 1. One day God will swing open the door. Thx for the peek.

    P.S. Walton resources, a must read on this topic.

  9. Hi Bruxy, I am puzzled by the fact that, if God knows everything that is going to happen and can control it, why does he let Eve get swayed by the serpent and eat the apple? I know we have free will but could God not have let the perfect garden exist for a longer period of time?
    Thanks, Charlotte Watson

  10. It seems as if evolution as the means by which life developed is built into the very fabric of the universe. Life is tied into underlying biochemical processes which is tied into underlying chemical and physical processes which again is tied into basic subatomic mechanisms, all arising out of the Big Bang. Could God have snapped his fingers and pulled Adam out of a hat like a parlour magician? Sure. But after creating a universe which was designed to create Adam-like life why resort to that?

    We should be open to the possibility that higher order things emerge out of lower order things. Just like stars ultimately emerge out subatomic particles, life emerges out inanimate things, and even consciousness can emerge out of underlying neurological processes.

    Would God’s universe have been considered “good” if He constantly had to meddle in it to get it to do things he wants? It’s like a car that always pulls to the left. It would not be considered a good car if someone always has to make a course correction to make it stay on the road. The only time God has to meddle in an otherwise good creation is when he hands humans the keys and the car gets steered into a ditch.

    1. Hey Aitch, while it may seem like “evolution” was the means by which life developed don’t jump too quick on that naturalist paradigm. Also, why should we be open to the possibility that higher order things emerge out of lower order things when both logically and observationally that is not true? Be careful not to presuppose your conclusion when making an argument Did you know the current scientific literature as currently formulated cannot account for the key transitions in life’s history, including:
      * the origin of life
      * the origin of eukaryotic cells
      * the origin of body plans
      * the origin of human exceptionalism

      Because of the shortcomings of evolutionary theory, I don’t see biological systems as having evolved. Rather, I think they’ve been designed.
      Even biologists who are outspoken atheists readily admit that biological biochemical systems appear to be designed. Why else would Nobel Laureate Francis Crick offer this word of caution to scientists studying biochemical systems: “Biologists must keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.” What other reason would evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins offer for defining biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose”?
      Biologists can’t escape the use of design language when they describe the architecture and operation of biological systems. This practice highlights the fact that biological systems appear to be designed, not evolved. If interested I would recommend watching Stephen Meyers, or James Tour on YouTube for a more thorough review.
      Blessings

  11. Bruxy, please thank Maya for her questions and to please keep them coming. Food for thought
    Is it possible that God created a mature Earth; just like he created a mature Adam?

    Fern & Terry

  12. As a lay person it is difficult to sift through and understand all of the scientific data for creation vs. evolution, and young earth vs. old earth theory. How can I responsibly examine the information and make an informed decision when it is laden with terminology, and theories and explanations and equations… that I just don’t get?!

    1. Good points, Linda. I don’t think God expects us to all become scientists or theologians. It’s been helpful to me to consider that the Bible contains different genres. You don’t read a poem or a song (I believe Genesis 1 is one of these) the same way you do a narrative (like Luke, for e.g.). Once you get that, you realize you don’t really need to “make a decision” about evolution that steers your faith one way or another. It’s kind of irrelevant in some respects. You can let the scientists figure out what seems to have happened as far as our physical origins, while you focus on Jesus. (Where we should stop listening to certain scientists though, is when they start making theological assertions they are not qualified to make). Anyway, brothers and sisters are going to have different views on physical origins and that’s ok. The main thing is to follow Jesus and to live in peace with one another.

  13. Agree totally that faith in Jesus is the key. What helped me greatly was the book The Genesis Question by Hugh Ross. Scientist and Astrophysisist. Old earth creationist, great material for those that would like to dive into it more and have a hard time with evolution. Besides it’s not really Evolution as if God is directing it…wouldn’t that be creationism.?

  14. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He endorses the Scriptures and particularly Moses. Got him along with Elijah to stand with him on Mount of Transfiguration. Moses was told to tell the people of Israel in Deut 4 don’t try to figure out what kind of God (Creator) I am from observation of animals, people or the sun moon and stars. Idolatry awaits!

    The method of evolution is identified and defined in Romans 1v23 as shaping the Creator in the mind from things which die. But to do this is to exchange the glory of the immortal God for a god of death and deeply offends God…. therefore….

    God’s methods are pure, beautiful and really hi tech and don’t take millions or billions of years… just like computers create virtual worlds in seconds or minutes with the use of code into the appropriate hardware.

    Jesus’ miracles are done just the same way as creation, by speaking, and our new bodies will happen in the twinkling of an eye. Six days is a long time!

    The sabbath is identified in Exodus 20v8-11 as a 24 hour day.

    Its really important in scripture to identify both context and other texts which speak to the same area to get the right interpretation.

    One other factor in interpretation is important and which John Wesley used when referring to the Copernican astronomy (the astronomy you and I were brought up with). He said, “the new astronomy tends to infidelity” As Jesus said you will know a tree whether good or evil by the fruit it bears. Matt 12v33.

    1. Hey Bob – I really appreciate your comments and thank you for pointing out that with God, all things are possible. There are four ‘red letter’ statements from Jesus that really struck me when I first read, heard and understood them. One of them was included in the quotes before Bruxy’s message. They are:

      John 8:58
      Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

      Luke 10:18
      And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.

      John 14:9
      Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

      John 16:13
      But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.

      These helped me to believe, beyond any shadow of doubt, that Christ is who he says he is. And when I chose to accept these verses at face value, I understood that Jesus pre-dates Abraham and Satan, is Father’s contemporary, was present in Genesis 1:1, and is here with me/us now.

      This seems a lot to swallow all at once, and it took receiving mercy and having experiences similar to the woman Jesus speaks of in Luke 7:48 to understand and receive Him as she did. Peace.

  15. Some personal thoughts I have precipitated over time. (Some ideas from Hugh Ross)

    IN the beginning God ,,, in his triune self God was IN the instance of creation.

    Since there was no “time” before the Big Bang, wherein time, space, energy and matter were created, God existed, not in time but in “eternal presence” Eternity seems to indicate endless time but ,, there was no time before creation.

    In the beginning God created ,,, all things were created through the “Word” In the very first “Let there be ,,, “. A space of possibility was created, for all things to be created. In the first milliseconds of the Big Bang there was an expansion of space, faster than the speed of light. This is only possible because “nothing” travels faster than the speed of light. The expansion of “no thing” allowed for the ever continuing expansion of energy and light. Word and meaning have no mass, as they are not a “thing”

    In the beginning God created the HEAVENS ,,, and the earth.

    It took a few billions of years of the coalescing of light energy and mass to create the stars that subsequently exploded to create more complex elements and mass. The planets were born of that mass.

    ,,,, Let there be light ,,, Hey wait, wasn’t the earth just created a verse before this? It is understood that planets are a swirling bunch of mass clouds for millions of years before they become solid mass and the surfaces are often opaque to light until an atmosphere forms and that atmosphere clears enough to allow light to the surface.

    The very first few lines of Genesis follow what science knows about how the universe was formed. The rest follows a scientifically believable trajectory.

    The account of the creation of Adam is most interesting in how it differs from some Ancient Near East creation accounts. That humanity was “formed” by water, dust (star dust to some) by God’s hands. Intimate formation, tactile, leaving the marks of the hands of God like marks by the hands of a potter. Bearing the “imprint” of the Father’s nature. As Bruxy noted, adam was then filled with life, inspired by God’s own breath. ‘Earthling” not the formal name of a person.

    I love that woman was created from the very dna of adam. The bone that encircled and protected his heart became Eve. I have only just heard of concept of ezer to define Eve’s importance in the essence of humanity. A helper as only God is described as helper.

    And for me only recently, seeing “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” as the long, evolutionary history of consciousness and “knowing” from the first single cell organisms that ‘lived” to the long line of complex life and hominids that preceded us. This evolving “knowledge” became the “fruit” we dined on as we developed a conscious understanding, beyond instinct, that our actions had a moral consequence.

    Out of “ground” ,,, water, dead matter, dust, God created. No snapping of fingers or instant “magic” but the purposeful unfurling and tactile forming of the elements of matter by the mind and hand of an amazing creative trio, the essence ,,, LOVE

  16. I have always looked at the creation story as a more figurative story. I mainly think what Jesus taught about love & forgiveness trumps how the world came to be in existence. It’s just more important to me, personally.

    Thanks for the additional explanation, Bruxy. There is something about your teaching that gives me peace & it has increased my closeness to God. So glad you are doing the blog.

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