Sunday, July 26, 2009

Genesis: How to approach it?

I'm discussing 'the old chestnut' of how to approach Genesis with a few friends at the moment. It's not a bad issue to discuss or return to occasionally but it is a secondary one. There is truth to be had, and errors to avoid but as a benchmark for orthodoxy, it isn't. Just to be clear, the truths are that God made the world, it suited his purposes, humanity is a unique creation and in Adam humanity fell. Adam, given Romans 5, needs to be a historical reality for Original Sin to work. Original Sin needs to work because that's what Jesus' redemptive work was to rescue us from, the origin of sin isn't demonic but human. An obvious error to avoid would be the idea that the world is fundamentally chaotic at its core, the careful pattern of Genesis obviously speaks against such a view. In all this I admit my view has been shaped by Henri Blocher's In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. (He suggests the framework theory which holds that Genesis 1-3 is a literary framework that contains a mixture of literal historical things like Adam and symbolic pictures such as the six days of creation.) I also think that intelligent design offers some useful ways of taking good science and fitting it inside a Christian worldview. However if I felt the Text was leading me to other conclusions I'd follow them.


Duggy said...

I think the issue is much bigger than that - with extremely significant precedents at risk.

For example - if I allow myself to modify my reading of Genesis to suit my beliefs that are contrary to a straightforward reading of the text, what is there to stop me doing this in other places where I equally don't agree with what is being said?

And if I give myself the right to chop & change as I see fit, what is the point of reading it at all - since I'm going to change it when I don't agree?

Secondly, there is the issue of "who do you believe - is it man, or is it God?"

Associated with this often are musings about the infalibility of science - as if it was some holy cow that can't be touched. - Yet if you will have a look at how science has changed over the last 200 years - how many things were we told "for certain" by scientists even 50 years ago - that we now know aren't quite true.

For example, asbestos being safe. The question is, how many of these things that "we know for certain" today will we shake our heads at in laughter in another 50 years time? Even the hypothesis of evolution has been changed and re-engineered so many times since it's inception that it's simply not funny.

Then there's the perception that somehow scientists are the only people on the planet devoid of prejudice! This is simply not true - for there is simply not enough time in our short life spans to second guess each person's work, so we all must make decisions based on less than complete knowledge to get anywhere in life - scientists included. So when faced with one of these decisions - we fill in the gaps with what we believe to be true.

So when it comes to whether you accept the fullness of God's Word or not - my question to you is : where do your prejudices lie? Who do you choose to believe? God's unchanging word - or the shifting sands of constantly changing human opinion - even 'science'?

Luke said...

Hi Duggy,

I'm not sure what your arguing against. Just to be clear I hold that:

1. Adam, a real historical man, representing and beginning humanity.
2. Humanity needs to be unique from animals.
3. Death of humanity (as described in 1 & 2) spiritual and physical.
4. Date of the beginning of the world unclear, natural revelation suggests very old, unless the text becomes clearer.

However I'm also not sure that "science" is a problem. Like history, it's a good tool when used properly but one that shouldn't become the philosophy that determines our interpretation.

Radagast said...

I'd love to discuss this topic over dinner some time... :)

Anonymous said...

Luke, something else for us to yarn about over college lunch. :)

I reckon the ID idea of "taking good science and fitting it inside a Christian worldview" (Phillip Johnson's "theistic science") is precisely what makes ID dodgy, because science is ultimately agnostic about the kind of grand causation on view in Genesis...


Luke said...

Hi Arthur,

Are you suggesting science and faith should be kept completely seperate?
Science is simply an advanced form of common sense and natural revelation, if carefully employed why shouldn't it have an adjunct role to faith?

Looking forward to your thoughts.

John Bartik said...

I didn't like ID because it seemed to be a different incarnation of God-of-the-gaps. When I watched the video, they talked alot about probability. The argument runs something like this: 'some molecule has developed a propellor - much like that on a boat. What a great idea! Someone must have designed that because it is statistically very unlikely that molecules randomly develop propellors.'

The problem with such arguments is that gaps get closed. Scientists might (and probably do) find a natural explanation for propellor-molecules. Such explanations do not need to account for God.

I think it is more sound intellectually to have a general disposition that sees God's sovereign hand in all things whether accounted for scientifically or not.

The other problem with ID is that it seems to claim to be a science, where it remains only a theory. ID has no principled methodology to generate advances in knowledge, it only points to instances in nature that seem to infer a designer.

I like science, and I think that whether they know it or not, all scientists are the ones at the coal-face of the creation mandate to 'name'. The beauty of what they find inherently testifies to a good god who delights in providing his creatures with wondrous and amazing things.


Radagast said...

The big weakness in ID is that it has failed to properly define its key term ("complexity"). A proper definition would be quantitative, and allow statements like "this feature has a complexity of 384." If they can then mathematically prove limits on what evolution can do with complexity, they've made their case. But a proper definition of complexity is where they'd have to start.

Luke said...

@ John B. and Radagast,

Maybe I'm more emnaoured by the idea of ID rather then the details! I liked the rejection of "Science" as a controlling philosophy and the idea of fitting good natural revelation around special revelation.

Radagast said...

I think that the Galileo story demonstrates some of the problems of letting Theology drive Science.

Science has to start with a good theological/philosophical basis (most importantly, with an acknowledgement of sin, and the consequent need for "checks and balances" to deal with fraud and error).

However, Science has to take natural/general revelation seriously, or it's doomed. And IMO the Johannine identification of Christ with the Logos provides the basis for assuming that the "Book of Nature" is written clearly, and therefore can be read.

As Galileo pointed out, this generally requires some mathematics:

[Science] is written in this grand book – I mean the universe – which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written.

It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.”

Radagast said...

Abraham Kuyper gave a great lecture on "Calvinism and Science" in 1898 -- see

I quote:

"How, now, can we prove that love for science in that higher sense, which aims at unity in our cognizance of the entire cosmos, is effectually secured by means of our Calvinistic belief in God's fore-ordination? ... if you now proceed to the decree of God, what else does God's fore-ordination mean than the certainty that the existence and course of all things, i.e., of the entire cosmos, instead of being a plaything of caprice and chance, obeys law and order, and that there exists a firm will which carries out its designs both in nature and in history? Now do you not agree with me that this forces upon our mind the indissoluble conception of one all comprehensive unity, and the acceptance of one principle by which everything is governed? It forces upon us the recognition of something that is general, hidden and yet expressed in that which is special. Yea, it forces upon us the confession that there must be: stability and regularity ruling over everything. Thus you recognize that the cosmos, instead of being a heap of stones, loosely thrown together, on the contrary presents to our mind a monumental building erected in a severely consistent style."

Luke said...

I like the Kuyper quote. (I should read more of him.)

Kutz said...

G'day Luke and all,

Luke, I'm just wondering what exactly you mean by sin not being of demonic origin. I imagine that you do not mean that there was no rebellion of the creation against God before the fall in Genesis 3, but perhaps that's exactly what you mean.

Luke said...

Hi Kutz,
I think Scripture is opaque on the origin of evil while being clear on on whose responsible; humans and clear on the solution; Christ. I said "not demonic" because while the Serpent is involved in the Fall it isn't the one held primarily responsible for sin in Genesis 3. (However I haven't figured out the exact relationship between our sin and the demonic world.)

John Bartik said...

I agree Luke, I loved the idea too. Fitting natural revelation around special revelation is the way to go. Especially if it can integrate science and aesthetics. I initially defended ID but after seeing a video in class, I thought it really didn't cut it.
Enjoying your blog,

Luke said...

Thanks John.

Duggy said...

QUOTING Luke when he said of his beliefs -

"Date of the beginning of the world unclear, natural revelation suggests very old, unless the text becomes clearer."

I guess that is what I was picking up on! I am curious, why do you reject a straight-forward calculation of the date of creation via geneologies & ages contained within (referring to known recorded secular history when these geneologies run out)? I don't think I need to point out this method arrives at near-enough to 6000 years - so when you say "natural revelation suggests very old" - are you referring to the claims made by some scientists RE millions & billions of years?

If this is the case, then you ought to consider how subjective historical science is vs. traditional science. A scientist working in traditional science would never get away with the sort of blatent loaded assumptions one working in historical science does!

Unfortunately, most people don't draw the difference between where the actual evidence ends and interpretation takes over either - for example, "millions of years" is not the actual evidence - but an interpretation of that evidence. For as other actual real scientists have pointed out, using an alternate interpretation the actual evidence can also fit quite soundly into a Biblical, 6000 year time scale.

Personally, I don't see science as the problem - in fact, I think science allows us to truly appreciate the glory of our maker, and exactly what He managed to complete in six, literal 24 hour periods. It's just when interpretation gets paraded as fact along with science that we come into trouble...

Duggy said...

Just to be a real PAIN - I would also like to comment on the ID argument!

Probability is an extremely valid argument to make as part of the ID debate because it effects every part of the hypothetical process called 'evolution'! - And we know that the more complex any item is, the less likely it is to come about via pure chance.

I do like the idea of calculating the probability of each step in the evolutionary process occurring - however I'd hate to be the person designated with the job of doing it!

One extremely worth while area of ID to consider is that of irreducable complexity. To put it bluntly - this is chicken and the egg sort of stuff - but asks pertinent questions such as : how did the reproductive process or the eye develop in little steps? We know in each of these, how easily it is to get it wrong - so that the system no longer functions.

In other words, to gain the currently observed benefit, the system must evolve not in little steps - but in one foul swoop to full functional maturity! - And that simply just adds to the probability nightmare against it all happening due to pure chance, hence is the argument ID makes.

Of course, it is extremely possible that one day, someone will come up with a hypothesis on how these things developed according to pure chance alone. However, it is extremely easy to come up with what-ever you like as long as you don't have to demonstrate it - and again, we've identified another of the massive differences between historical science & traditional.

If there is any weakness in this argument, it is the fact that many of those using it do not go the next step and identify the creator as being YHWH. To illustrate this very point, ID has been used by some to focus attention on a growing hypothesis where by aliens are given credit for seeding life here on earth!!!

Radagast said...

There are some problems with a 6,000-year age of the Earth.

For example, tree rings go back at least 10,000 years, and the city of Jericho has also been dated to more than 9,000 years ago.

The Borg said...

Plus light from stars.