In this series on creation (start here), we have argued that readers should interpret Genesis 1 in its literary framework as a cosmogony and that “day” is to be interpreted literarily and analogically. Now, we turn to the issue of science and interpretations.

The purpose of the creation week is not to communicate how long it took God to create the cosmos but to provide a two-fold analogy, namely, that the cosmos functions as God’s temple and that the Israelites should follow God’s work week.  As a result of this reading, in this section I will expound upon implications on this reading of the text, particularly as it relates to relationship between theological approaches and scientific theories on creation.

First, I do not believe that Genesis 1 outright supports either a literal six-day creation or Theistic Evolution.[1]

The author is not interested in the process of creation, or the “How” of creation.  The biblical author did not even have these categories of “How” in mind while writing the text.  The biblical author certainly did not have scientific categories nor did he intend to convey the length of the creation process.[2]  This argument is supported by the fact that the exact process by which God created and ordered the cosmos is left untold.  Gen 1, rather, is concerned with the “Who” and “Why” questions we, humans, so instinctively ask. As stated above, the point of Gen 1 is to communicate a theology about the LORD, namely, that He alone is the creator of the heavens and earth and all that fills them.  As a result, though Gen 1 is not meant to be read in a literal fashion, it may be that God created the universe in six days.  God very well could have done so, but the writer does not elaborate on this subject.[3]  The biblical author uses the six/seven pattern for literary and analogical purposes.  On the other hand, it also may be that God created and ordered the cosmos over many years.  For this reason, I do not think that evangelical Christians need to hold to their specific view (e.g., “six day” literal, Theistic Evolution) on par with orthodox doctrines.  Christians can and should have their opinion, but this does not mean that one who holds a different position is out of orthodoxy or out of evangelicalism.

Second, Christians do not need to have a defensive posture nor stand in outright opposition to scientific theories.

More specifically, Christians can legitimately consider claims made by science on the theory of evolution.  This does not mean that a Christian needs to accept them, but he/she should not be afraid of them.  Unfortunately, most evangelicals do stand in conflict with scientific claims.[4]  It should be noted that the general public, and that of leading scientists, subscribes to a position of conflict between Gen 1 and evolution.  For some reason people think that science and faith inherently occupy opposing positions on the issue of evolution.  George Marsden, a notable historian, says of this posture: “For over a century warfare has been the dominant popular image for considering the relationship between science and religion, evolution and creation.”[5]  It is my opinion that this conflict posture must be abandoned and evangelicals must recover the rich Protestant conviction that the best theology should seek to understand and incorporate the best science.  Again, I am not suggesting that Christians should blindly accept any scientific theories.  However, they do not need to be weary of science’s findings and theories.  Moreover, evangelicals do not need to think that simply because a Christian holds to Theistic Evolution that he/she is elevating the claims of science over the Bible.  As I have tried to argue, Gen 1 does not make any scientific claims on the process of creation.  Thus, there are no scientific claims jockeying for position.[6]

Lastly, this reading of Gen 1 can remove intellectual burdens that thoughtful Christians, especially Christian youth and young adults, have wrestled with.

Sadly, many Christians, especially college students, have their faith shaken when they study the various scientific fields and encounter a plausible view of evolution.  This does not necessarily need to be the case.  But since such Christians are forced to choose between either the claims of science they are learning or a view of creation that has been exalted to orthodoxy, they are left wounded, confused, or in the worst case they abandon their faith.  Furthermore, this either-or approach also has a negative impact on informed unbelievers and seculars.  They are told that their opinions on science and evolution are fundamentally opposed to the Bible.  It should be no surprise, then, that many dismiss Christianity because of its perceived outright opposition to modern science.  I argue that these scenarios are unnecessary and can be avoided.  We, evangelicals, may be doing a great disservice to younger Christians and to our relationship to the greater public.  There are, doubtless, biblical claims that are either-or, but one’s view on creation is not one of them.  As stated above, Gen 1 does not outright prescribe a “six-day” view or Theistic Evolution on the process of creation.  I believe, therefore, that the above reading of Gen 1 can give Christians strength and courage, as well as remove any unnecessary obstacles for non-Christians.  It may be that Christianity, in God’s grace, will become more plausible in the eyes of unbelievers if this reading of Gen 1 is taught.  And it would do well for evangelicalism to move away from its excessive antagonism towards contemporary science and replace it with a historically deep Christian position of “faith seeking understanding.”[7]  I believe Gen 1 warrants such a position.

[1] Theistic Evolution is a theory of evolution that claims that the process of evolution is the means by which God has created life on earth, whether of animate or inanimate objects.

[2] A problem that many literal “six day” adherents have is reconciling Gen 1 and 2.  I have yet to hear a plausible explanation for the major differences that exist between the two chapters.  I believe that for the ancient reader there would be no problems between the two chapters because the ancient reader would not have read chapter one as a literal presentation of history.

[3] One can believe in a literal six day creation while also holding to a reading of Gen 1 that I suggest.  Doing so is not inconsistent.  This is because the text does not prescribe a definitive length of time.  One is free to believe that God created in six days or created over many years.

[4] Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997), p. 77-105.  Barbour, a leading philosopher of science, identifies the following four ways of relating the doctrine of creation to the theory of evolution.  First, Conflict is the position whereby the claims of science and faith are fundamentally at odds, and thus each side is attempting to win out.  Second, Independence holds that science and faith occupy two different spheres and can peaceably coexist since they do not operate on the same level; one deals with science and the other on matters of faith and morality.  Third, Dialogue contends that faith and science occupy different fields but can interact on some issues.  Lastly, Integration suggests that one can take seriously both claims of faith and science in order to construct a view of reality.  I am sympathetic with the integration model.

[5] George Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 177.  Marsden argues that evangelicals and fundamentalists have assumed that an antievolution mindset is the only viable option for faithful, Bible-believing Christians.

[6] It may also be helpful to state that I do not hold science as equally authoritative as Scripture.  Scripture holds the place of supreme authority for humanity.  However, this place of authority is on matters of faith, practice, and morality.  Where Scripture is silent, science can and should be sought to explain reality (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics).  But on issues of ethics and morality Scripture is the final authority.

[7] B.B. Warfield, a father of biblical inerrancy, argues, “We must not, then, as Christians, assume an attitude of antagonism toward the truths of reason, or the truths of philosophy, or the truths of science, or the truths of history, or the truths of criticism.  As children of the light, we must be careful to keep ourselves open to every ray of light.  Let us, then, cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day.  None should be more zealous in them than we.  None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it, whithersoever it leads.”  B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, (Phillipsburg, NJ: PRR Publishing, 1970), p. 463.

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