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Theology

Choosing Evolution: Bad reasons for a big departure

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution is a recent book featuring 25 evangelical theologians and scientists, each taking a chapter to explain why they have adopted the theory of evolution. The editors note at the outset that fully, “69% of Americans who faithfully attend church weekly believe that God created humans in their present form less than ten thousand years ago.” The goal of this book is to reduce the number of evangelicals holding this view. Instead of laying out the evidence of Scripture and the findings of scientists, they opt to tell their stories. And while each contributor has his or her unique story, one can notice that a number of themes recur in the stories. I want to note three major ones. 1. JOHN WALTON'S REINTERPRETATION OF GENESIS 1 & 2 John Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 & 2 was raised by several of the authors, who echoed his argument that the Genesis account only attempts to answer the “who” and “why” of creation, not “how” God did it. Walton claims that Genesis is simply the Hebrew version of an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) origins account and that such accounts are only intended to teach the function and purpose of each part of the created world. The origins of the material stuff of creation, and the way the world was brought into being, were not the concern in such accounts. And since, according to Walton, Genesis is like these other ANEs, it wasn’t trying to explain how the world was made either, but was only trying to point to who did it. Genesis thus sets out to refute the views of surrounding nations by attributing the existing world to the Hebrew God instead of the pagan gods, and presenting the earth as God’s dwelling, his temple. These claims of Walton have been soundly refuted by Noel Weeks in an article in the Westminster Theological Journal (78:1 , 1–28). Walton incorrectly interprets the ANE texts, brings together ANE texts from extremely diverse times and contexts, and, I might add, presents an exegesis of Genesis 1 & 2 that overlooks all the points that don’t fit with his interpretation. He also makes words like “create” and “make” mean things they simply don’t mean. I’ve listened to Walton deliver his insights in several long speeches and I’ve read one of his books. Unfortunately, John Walton has had a dramatic effect in terms of opening the way for Christians to hold to an evolutionary account of the origins of the universe, and even of the origins of life. As, J.B. Stump, one of the book’s contributors wrote, Walton’s scholarship “has been a gateway for me (and many others) to consider a more sophisticated treatment of Scripture.” More sophisticated? Walton’s interpretation may appear to be more sophisticated than that of the average Bible reader. But it’s patently incorrect. 2. THE "TWO BOOKS" ARGUMENT Quite a few of the contributors referred to Scripture and Creation as “two books”: the book of special revelation (the Bible) the book of general revelation (God's Creation) Theologians are said to draw from the first; scientists from the second; and both of these “professionals” are supplying us with interpretations of divine revelation. This metaphor – of equating certain scientists' conclusions as being God's general revelation, and then calling this "revelation" complementary to the message of Scripture – has been around for some time. It may originate in a misuse of article 2 of the Belgic Confession, where the "the creation, preservation, and government of the universe" is said to be like a "beautiful book." One contributor even speaks of “reading the big book of creation alongside the little book of Scripture,” telling scientists that they are “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” Another says that the “book of works is one that He desires us to take, read, and celebrate.” But the Scriptures never speak of general revelation in this way. Rather, the general revelation that is available to all people in the world is enough to make them know that there is a God, and that he should be served and praised (Ps 19:1-6; Acts 17:24). This revelation leaves them without excuse when they suppress the knowledge of God and substitute idols in his place (Rom 1:18–20). Meanwhile, the discoveries of scientists are not revelations from God, but human interpretations of data that are fitted within particular theories. The Lord never promised a correct interpretation of nature, but he did promise to lead his people in the rich pastures of his Word by the working of his Holy Spirit. Further, since all people, because of sin, suppress the knowledge of God from creation, Scripture must correct those misconceptions; thus, the clear message of Scripture must have precedence. 3. STRAW MAN ARGUMENTS Finally, the third major theme I picked out was not a theme the authors themselves highlighted, but rather, something I noticed. It felt to me that the arguments they mentioned against evolution were some of the weakest; they were blowing over straw men. For instance: dinosaurs never existed Satan buried the bones that testify otherwise “Job invented electricity” But these are not the actual arguments used by “young” earth creationists! N.T. Wright’s contribution – an excerpt from one of his books – tries to trivialize the entire young earth position by treating it as if it were merely a tempest in a North American teapot. He speaks as if only unsophisticated revolutionaries would ever treat the biblical text in such a fundamentalist way. Similarly, another contributor states, “Despite twenty-five centuries of debate, it is fair to say that no human knows what the meaning of Genesis 1 and 2 was precisely intended to be.” I would have expected the editors to excise such nonsense. Readers must also endure the expected jab at Bishop James Ussher, who concluded that God created the world in 4004 B.C.. In fact, Ussher was one of the most learned men of his time, and sought to determine creation’s date because this was an exercise that many other scholars around him had sought to do. Indeed, many Jews still give today’s date as determined from the moment of creation – today, as I write, it is 17th of Tishre, year 5779 since creation began. Finally, all sides in this debate ought to agree that pat responses such as “with God one day is like a thousand years,” will never suffice, and, in fact, represent a misuse of Ps 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8. CONCLUSION How I Changed My Mind About Evolution was never intended to marshal all the arguments in favor of evolution. Rather, it tells the stories of various evangelical theologians, pastors, and scientists. As such, its style is completely in line with the purpose of its publisher BioLogos, which aims to “translate scholarship on origins for the evangelical church.” In other words, the book seeks to make evolution seem acceptable by holding up this collection of twenty-five models for evangelical believers to follow. They hope to reduce that statistic of 69% that was mentioned at the outset. However, the book only leaves me unimpressed, inasmuch as some of the strongest arguments, the three that recur the most often in the book, the ones that seem to have opened the way for these 25 evangelicals to change their minds about evolution, turn out to be very bad arguments. A version of this article first appeared at CreationWithoutCompromise.com, Dr. Ted Van Raalte is Professor of Ecclesiology at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary....

Theology

The limits of the “two-books” metaphor

There is an idea, common among Christians, that God has revealed Himself to us via “two books”: Scripture and the book of Nature. The Belgic Confession, Article 2 puts it this way: "We know by two means: "First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature, as the apostle Paul says in Rom 1:20. All these things are sufficient to convict men and leave them without excuse. "Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word as far as is necessary for us in this life, to His glory and our salvation." But what happens when these two “books” seem to conflict? This happens in the Creation/Evolution debate, where the plain reading of Genesis 1 and 2 conflicts with the evolutionary account of our origins. So, as Jason Lisle notes, that has some Christians thinking that since: “…the book of Nature clearly reveals that all life has evolved from a common ancestor….we must take Genesis as a metaphor…. we must interpret the days of Genesis as long ages, not ordinary days.” Analogies have their limits But that's getting things backwards. While the Belgic Confession does speak of Creation as being like a book, metaphors and analogies have their limits. For example, In Matt. 23:37 God is compared to a hen who "gathers her chicks under her wings" – this analogy applies to the loving, protective nature of a hen, and should not be understood to reveal that God is feminine. That's not what it is about. Clearly Nature is not a book – the universe is not made up of pages and text, and it's not enclosed in a cover or held together by a spine. The Belgic Confession is making a specific, very limited, point of comparison when it likens God's creation to a book. How exactly is it like a book? In how it proclaims "God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature." It does so with book-like clarity, "so that people are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). But in the Creation/Evolution debate some Christians extend this book analogy in a completely different, and entirely inaccurate, direction. It has been taken to mean that Creation can teach us about our origins with book-like clarity. This misunderstanding then presents us with a dilemma: if we have one book saying we were created in just six days, and another saying it took millions of years, and both are equally clear on this matter, then what should we believe? We need to understand that this dilemma is entirely of our own making. Creation is not like a book when it comes to teaching us about our origins. As Dr. Lisle has noted, it does not speak with that kind of clarity on this topic. Only one actual book here In contrast, the Bible is not merely like a book, it actually is one! It is there, and only there, that we get bookish clarity on how we, and the world around us, came to be. So, yes, the two-book analogy remains helpful when it is used to illustrate the clarity with which God shows "his eternal power and divine nature" to everyone on the planet. But when it comes to the Creation/Evolution debate, the way the two-book analogy is being used is indeed fallacious. God's creation simply does not speak with book-like clarity regarding our origins. We can be thankful, then, that his Word does! Jon Dykstra also blogs on Creation at CreationWithoutCompromise.com....

Documentary, Movie Reviews

DNA BATTLES: Were Adam & Eve historical?

Documentary 59 minutes / 2018 RATING: 7/10 In 2011 the Christian evolutionary group Biologos made a splash with widely published views that questioned whether Adam and Eve were historical. This documentary is a rebuttal. It tackles primarily the scientific front but also touches the theological front too, addressing their claims that Christians have to accommodate our views to the “reality” of evolution. While the theologians share answers to objections you may have heard before, the seven consulted scientists are sharing quite recent developments in biology that now show how certain evolutionary assumptions have been proven untrue (like Junk DNA). This is a great documentary, with books worth of material condensed into a one-hour presentation. But it isn’t going to be for everyone – you’ll need to remember some of your high school science to really be able to follow along. But for any viewer interested in the subject matter, this is going to be fascinating and worth multiple viewings. What this most reminded me of was Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels, the very best creationist documentary I’ve seen. DNA Battles doesn’t quite rise to that level, but anyone who enjoyed Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels will certainly appreciate this one too. Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....

Science - Creation/Evolution

Of baby birds, and death before the Fall

Today we started off the day with a funeral right after breakfast. Bluey Leapey Wieske died during the night. We buried him at the back of the our property, close by where we buried the cow a few months ago. Micah asked me, “Daddy, when I die, can you bury me next to Bluey?” Micah called him Bluey Leapey because of his eyes. They were a kind of blue, and the flickering of his eyelids made Micah think of the name “Leapey.” Micah found Bluey’s nest fallen to the ground from the towering palm trees by the kitchen complex. Bluey had fallen with the nest, then climbed partway back up the tree where Micah found him, stunned, clinging to the bark. For two days Micah researched how to care for injured wild baby birds. He did everything he could to nurture and save the little bird. One clear instruction from the many sources consulted Micah completely ignored: “Do not handle the bird too much.” For some reason, Bluey did not seem to like being placed in the remnant of the nest we gathered up. He much preferred to nestle on Micah’s chest, clinging to his shirt. I fully expected the bird to die within minutes, but he lasted two days with Micah feeding him fruit and bread moistened with water. Micah is seven years old. He is an active, energetic, carefree, very physical child. He is also extremely sensitive. This morning we awoke to hear his wails of lamentation as he discovered Bluey’s lifeless form lying in the carefully prepared nesting box next to his bed. Micah’s weeping continued as we headed out after breakfast and laid Bluey to rest in a small hole dug under a spreading tree in the back field. Why did Micah cry? Is his grief a consequence of his innate understanding that death is abnormal, an enemy, a cursed result of sin and the Fall? Or his is grief abnormal, an enemy, a cursed result of sin and the Fall? Death is good? There are those who, in an attempt to resolve perceived conflicts between science and faith, propose that the Bible be read in the light of modern scientific research. Since scientists claim that multiple lines of evidence point to animal ancestry for humans, and an evolutionary origin to all of life, some Christian scientists believe that the Bible should be read in such a way that it allows for a world in which animal and human life developed over millions of years. Contrary to atheistic evolutionism, this Christian version understands the process not to be the result of random chance, but rather a beautiful, intricate process created and directed by God Himself for His glory. There’s a problem: this theory requires that death and suffering exist in this world long before the arrival of Adam and Eve. (In fact, this theory makes it impossible to even hold on to the Biblical Adam and Eve, but that’s a different story.) The problem is dismissed by Christians who believe that God used evolution to create life on this planet. They argue that when the Bible says that death entered into the world through Man’s sin, this is a reference to the death of humans. It doesn’t refer to the death of non-human creatures. Science has established the presence of catastrophic death and disease well before the arrival of homo sapiens in the history of evolution. According to evolutionary creationists, that’s OK. Evolution requires millions of years of birth, suffering, and death in order to progress. This can be understood to be “very good,” as God declared of His creation, as long as it doesn’t refer to human death. Since Adam and Eve’s respective “parents” or non-human progenitors were not actually human, but only human-like, it doesn’t matter that they suffered and died before the Fall. This is all part of God’s glorious plan of (evolutionary) creation, which He declared very good (Genesis 1:31). It’s really good and beautiful that foxes eat rabbits. Or that little birds fall out of trees and die. It’s all part of how Creation/Evolution works. Behold, it was very good. And it is very good. Why is Micah crying then? According to the thesis that Creation is through Evolution, I guess Micah’s sinful little heart is rebelling against God’s good and perfect creative work. Who is Micah to question what God calls very good? This is the way God has made the world: through suffering and death, Life is perfected. That’s the way it was before the Fall, and that’s the way it continues after the Fall. Not the way it is supposed to be However, the Bible teaches something different. The Bible informs the way I comfort and instruct Micah at this important educational moment. We speak together about the very good creation into which our sin introduced death and destruction as results of God’s curse. This is an important instructional opportunity to show Micah that the wages of sin is death: not just death in the sense of a heart stopping or a person not breathing anymore, but death in all of its horrible catastrophically destructive aspects as it affects Man, relationships, animals, and all of creation. This little bird died because Eve took a bite from a fruit that God had told her not to eat. This little bird died because we are sinners. The creation is groaning and is in bondage to decay because of our sin. But here is the good news. Jesus is making all things new. In the new creation, things are very, very good. There is no more death. In the new heavens and the new earth, Micah will no longer weep over a dead little bird, because Jesus is bringing about the day when the full Life-giving and Life-transforming results of Jesus’ death and resurrection will finally rid the universe of every last vestige of the heart-wrenching sadness and misery that results from our Fall. Rev. Wieske is a Canadian Reformed missionary serving the Church in Brazil. This article appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective under the title "Of baby birds, death, and creation." A Dutch version of this article can be found on a Dutch creationist site here....