5 Issues Created by Creationism for Christians

evolution-creationism1I sat with my fifteen year-old daughter last night watching Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” exchanging blows with Ken Ham, a young-Earth creationist who presides over the Creation Museum on a live debate hosted by Ham. I was left disappointed. Ham and Nye both appear to be good men, sincere men, and well-studied in their unique fields. But after 2 ½ hours of wrangling, debating, and firing shots at each other, I got the distinct sense that both sides ended the debate more convinced of their position and having armed their respective believers with tools to continue the fight outside.

Since when was the creation story fodder for war? Since when did God intend us to draw battle lines over a story of how the people who are fighting got here to fight in the first place?

I am not a young-earth six literal days creationist. Nor are millions of faithful Christians. I do, however, think the Genesis story of creation offers great themes that can be missed if we get stuck in the yoms of the text and make those our weapons of war.

Here are some issues created by creationism for Christians:

1. The Bible is Not a Science Book

When scripture is regarded as the only source of authority, then Christians are forced to make scientific discoveries fit with our interpretation of scripture. If scientific data reveals a contrary truth to the way we read a scripture, then shouldn’t we embrace the scientific truth as God’s truth and reconsider the way we have read that scripture? God never intended for us to use the bible as the only source of authority. The Apostle Paul tells Christians that, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Romans 1:20) Creation teaches us, the bible teaches. God breathed into creation (a foundational concept in the story of the Garden of Eden) and scripture. Scripture never encourages us to twist and fenagle scientific discoveries to align with our personal understanding of scripture. And to do so may actually shut off the truth God has prepared for us in creation.

2. “Science Versus Faith” is a False Dichotomy

The “science versus faith” language has assumed you can’t honestly be both a scientist and a Christian. Creationism stands on the side of “faith” in a cultural war against “science.” With these battle lines drawn, it’s assumed you can’t be someone who has deep faith and an honest commitment to unbiased scientific discovery. Of course, this is untrue. For centuries the world’s greatest scientists have been people of great faith. Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, to name a few, never felt the need to abandon faith with new scientific discoveries. God’s existence was not generally debated. How they understood creation and scripture was. The two were not seen as mutually exclusive. We must stop pitting faith against science. Both are necessary. Science helps us answer the “how,” faith helps us answer the “why.”  Science can’t answer the “why” alone and faith can’t answer the “how” alone. Both are needed to understand life. And rightly viewed, they work seamlessly together to disclose a bigger and grander view of God than either can do in isolation from the other. For the Christian, scientific discoveries reveal to us the character and nature of God. This too is truth! Christians have nothing to fear from new scientific truths of the planet and cosmos and should be equally loyal to the truth of scientific discoveries in creation as we are in our pursuit of the truth of scripture. Together, we gain a greater view of the whole truth of God revealed to us.  I recently blogged about this point here.

 3. Stories in Genesis Have Cousins

I was shocked to learn as a young undergrad that Genesis was not the only book that recorded the story of the Garden of Eden and Noah’s flood. Our professor handed us two documents that recorded strikingly similar stories from Mesopotamian and Babylonian poems. The dates below record the age of the tablets and fragments. Most scholars assume these stories existed for centuries prior to the creation of these specific tablets.

The Epic of Gilgamesh (13th -10th Centuries BC)

In both Genesis and the Gilgamesh Epic, a man is created from dirt and lives with animals. A woman is given to him who temps him by offering him food and as a result he covers his nakedness and leaves the place. There is also a snake present that steals immortality from the human. The Genesis flood story follows the Gilgamesh flood story almost identically.

The Enuma Elis (7th Century BC)

Genesis and the Enuma Elis parallel in their account of the darkness and chaos preceding the creation of all things.

Clearly, civilizations, including the Israelites, were sharing common stories and poems about the creation of the world. In the case of the Gilgamesh Epic and the Enuma Elis, these have always been considered beautiful poems that speak of the conception of creation. While scholars are divided on who was borrowing from who or if all three simply recorded oral stories, one thing is clear, the Genesis version came about in a time when great poetry was being used to describe the same story in other civilizations. Creationism holds to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3, aggressively so, but extant copies of other creation accounts offer something to consider when making assumptions about Genesis.

4. Creationism Isn’t a Test of Orthodoxy

Creationism is still used as a test of Christian orthodoxy. Christians may still fear the sting of judgment if they confess to being a theistic evolutionist. While church leaders may fall short of condemning people who hold such beliefs, it’s not uncommon to hold such beliefs quietly or avoid talking about the topic altogether. And we’re not that far removed from the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 when a high school teacher was convicted of teaching evolution in a public school.

The test for Christian fellowship is belief and loving submission to Jesus Christ, the son of God. When creationism is elevated to a position of authority, then additional requirements are placed upon this test and we quickly move from fellowship only through Christ to fellowship only through creationism. And while churches and church leaders may never expel a theistic evolutionist, they may be inclined to limit one’s participation or leadership based on this position.

 5. Creationism is a Distraction

The ministry of Jesus was focused squarely on loving and serving God and neighbor. Christianity is increasingly scrutinized today for the plethora of issues we make about positions others take. The church can get easily distracted from her mission by the pressure to draw lines on every issue raised. People in the church and outside the church then create impressions about the church from these issues and not from the way the church is prioritizing her love for God and neighbor.

Topics such as these are important to discuss but those who lead them must balance them against a more important concern – the mission of Jesus. And the mission of Jesus has never hinged on whether we believe the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago or whether God has evolved the world for eons.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health who led the Human Genome Project in mapping the all human genes, is a devout Christian who founded a group to help address the science versus faith discussion. The BioLogos Foundation is designed to promote the relationship between faith and religion and provides resources and tools to help embrace the work of God in its entirety.

I’m looking forward to future discoveries God reveals to his church in both scripture and creation and long for a day when we embrace both as signs of his love and care for us.

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Categories: Faith

13 replies

  1. Thank you Rich. This is a fair and balanced perspective, in my estimation. There’s too much fear-based and reactionary faith v. science stuff out there creating an unnecessary and false dichotomy. Keep up the good work!

  2. I also felt disappointed in the debate. Like you I am not a young earth creationist and believe in integrating faith and science as much as possible. But I believe that the epistemological priorities that each side brings to the table does not allow for complete integration. If one choses to believe in creationism (whether young earth, evolutionary, or somewhere in between) then you already assume the presence of God and the existence of spiritual and unexplainable realities. These assumptions are not available to those in the scientific naturalist camp where only observable, verifiable, and provable “truth” reigns. Thus, ultimately the two sides can never be fully integrated. Each side will debate the grounds for what constitutes truth and will never fully agree, nor should we expect them to, due to their assumed starting points. If “all truth is God’s truth,” what do we do when one conflicts the other? Ultimately, it is a matter of faith, do you believe that science, scripture, or a version of both that gives the best explanation for the world that we experience? Both camps have assumptions that elicit our faith. This is an important question (which comes from Alister McGrath) as we engage the science and religion question. Thanks Rich, good thoughts!

    • Great points, Drew. Epistemological assumptions will require a separate post altogether! I would tend to lean to scientific discovery if a scientific truth conflicts with a biblical truth, only because the new discovery may add light to a way we have been misreading the scripture, which itself may not have been truthful. Your point is well made. In the end faith must be exercised by both sides. Thanks!

  3. There is another issue with creationism and the brand of Christianity which supports it. That type of Christianity is all or nothing. Kids are indoctrinated with the mind set that if one word in the Bible is wrong, it is all wrong. Those are words from a preacher I know. Another preacher would say in the service, “If the Bible says it,” and the kids would all respond, “It’s the truth.” Now these kids go to college, take Geology 101 and find out they have been deceived their whole life. The cognitive dissonance is huge and they have to reconcile “If one thing is wrong,it is all wrong.” The product is either an atheist or irrationally devout Christian. The path to the healthy Christianity you promote, Rich, is very difficult when a young earth theology is taught. This type of theology is killing Christianity.

    • Excellent point, Will. I am a young mom and I am so frustrated in my attempts to train my children to know God without getting tripped up by the vast approaches to interpretation of scripture- especially in a legalistic church environment. My children will have intimate relationships with many “good” people of many opposing beliefs. How can I guard myself against the sense that I cannot possibly know God if the whole world sees the same creation and reads the same scriptures and forms entirely different and even opposing theology?

      Up until recently, I had thought I would be able to recognize a saved person (or accurate theology) simply by observing the fruit their life produces. I was never told that unbelievers did many good things, too!

      Any suggestions for how I can help my children (and myself) grow to recognize thinking motivated by love found in Jesus, rather than mere human compassion?!?

      • Angela, I have my own answer to that question but this is Rich Little’s blog so I will let him put forth is answer. I would be curious to see where it fits with mine. :) I hope your search for the answer if fruitful.

      • Angela. I have a somewhat simple approach to this. Jesus distilled faith and true religion down to two commands – love God and love neighbor. Under these two commands all other doctrines and commands and traditions hang. If in our debating and conjecture and disagreement we find ourselves moving away from these two commands, then we must assume that we have been sidetracked into legalistic and works-oriented faith.

        I personally place a high priority on motive. If one’s motive is to genuinely love God and love neighbor (as opposed to seeking to earn salvation, defend a tradition, grind a particular social ax) then I believe that person is close to the heart of God. Hence, recognizing pure motives (which is what Jesus often railed on the Pharisees for not having) is a good place to begin in recognizing people who are maturing in their faith and relationship with God.

        By far the majority of squabbles in the Christian world have nothing to do with ways of loving God and neighbor more. They are over the finer points of theology and church tradition, which, while good and worthy of discussion, ought never to trump our hunger for loving God and neighbor more.

        This means that Jesus followers are not contained to a particular tradition or denomination, but are truly made up of anyone who genuinely loves God and their neighbor. Our legalism will often kick in and we’ll want to add other things to this which our particular tradition may uphold. However, if we can suspend that for a little while, we’ll see that using this measure, some in our traditions may be further away from the kingdom than others in traditions that look very, very different to my own.

        So, short answer: Begin by saturating your children in the words, teachings, and love of Jesus. If they don’t genuinely love him for who he is, then they might be inclined to stay in church for the wrong reasons. As their love for Jesus grows, find ways for them to express this love, through service to one another, to people on the fringes and margins and to people in their church. As this becomes normal for them, as their hearts and inner life conform more and more to look like the heart and inner life of Jesus, then not only will their fruit make manifest the presence of God in their life, but their standard for judging others will conform to that of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit within them and the community of faith.

        Hope this helps a little. You are no doubt a wonderful mother and follower who is modeling the way of Jesus in great ways.

      • I can live with that answer, Rich. :) Religions, in general, have far too much exclusion and not inclusion. I especially like that you make the distinction of the motivation being of love and not to earn salvation. That message needs to be heard by more people. Thanks.

  4. Pastor Little, did Jesus believe that Adam and Eve were real people? Did he believe Noah was a real person? Thanks in advance for your response.

    • Hi Mr. Vieira,

      Great question and one that is often asked in relationship to the creation versus evolution discussion. I appreciate you asking it.

      The question presupposes that Jesus knowledge was perfectly divine and perfectly complete. If this is true and Jesus references Noah, Adam and Eve as real people, then they were indeed real people. In order to answer this question we must first briefly explore the underlying presupposition. Jesus was both human and divine. When our Lord entered the world, he chose to do so at a particular time and place and assumed the cultures and traditions of that time and place. He was also a biblically literate first century rabbi who learned the Torah and “grew in wisdom and stature” (Luke 2:52), indicating that he did not arrive on earth with omniscient, perfect and full divine knowledge. As he grew and studied, he grew in wisdom. In this sense, he was fully human, not knowing all but growing in knowledge. Scripture also confirms this. In Mark 13:32 he responds to a question regarding his second coming to which he responds, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This was in the middle of his ministry and he openly confirms that only God the Father has perfect knowledge. Scripture teaches that Jesus intentionally and temporarily set aside certain elements of his power and knowledge when he took human form. Philippians 2:6-7 says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” This emptying took place when he left heaven to take on human form. It’s the most humbling and amazing gift of Jesus, to have set aside these perfect qualities to dwell among us as a human. Hebrews 2:14-18 also offers a similar insight into his humanity, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” Fully human “in every way” must certainly include human knowledge and reason, or else he couldn’t be “fully” human in “every” way.

      We see some evidence of limited knowledge regarding sicknesses that Jesus healed which at the time were credited to demons but now our editors and commentators describe as particular diseases. When Jesus describes these ailments as demon possession or when he heals a demon possessed person, the discussion is never over the exact diagnosis but over the authority of Jesus as the Son of God. As humans have developed and medical science has improved, we can now identify some of the sicknesses Jesus healed. We have knowledge available to us today that neither he nor his culture had.

      The same is true for the references we see to other debatable scenarios, including Adam, Eve and Noah. In Jesus’ day the general religious consensus of the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah was that they were actual events. They didn’t have access to the scientific information available to us nor is there an indication that they were aware of similar stories shared among neighboring nations who also claimed them as their own. Jesus spends no time debating the authenticity of the events as it wasn’t a question ever pondered. It was always assumed. Rather, he referenced the events to teach the underlying principles of the events, which is a brilliant (divine?) handling of the stories. In a similar way, Jesus told parables like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Farmer and the Seed, and so on, not to debate the authenticity of the stories but to draw out from them the underlying messages from God for creation.

      None of this means that Jesus lacks one iota of divinity, but rather that as a human, Jesus entered the world at a time and in a place that had limited scientific knowledge, and it was in this knowledge in which “he grew in wisdom.” Jesus’ humanity, his decision to leave heaven with perfect, full and divine knowledge, and self-limit to a culture and time, is the greatest act of grace ever performed.

      I apologize for the lengthy reply but as you can see, the question begs an answer beyond a simply yes or no.

      Thanks again for the question. We love your family and the great example your son is to so many.

      Rich

      • Rich, the question, as I intended it, doesn’t presuppose complete knowledge on Jesus part. I acknowledge a very particular limitation on Jesus knowledge. That’s what my question had in view. My intention was that, for the inquiry to be meaningful, it has to engage a greater level of subtlety. That is, we can’t simply say Jesus didn’t know the day or the hour (or that he was fully human) so he had a general lack of knowledge so he was wrong about Adam, Eve, and Noah being real persons.

        As a further preliminary to my comments below please bear in mind this distinction. There is a difference between 1) a lack of knowledge without an awareness of that lack; and 2) a lack of knowledge accompanied by an awareness of that lack and an awareness of it’s particular parameters.

        Jesus knowledge did have limits set particularly by the father for a particular reason. That is, that Jesus, having, incomplete knowledge, was particularly aware of where that boundary lay and was particularly careful to acknowledge the same – and that this limitation wasn’t by accident – this boundary was one set by the father’s intention so that the boundary itself was particularly knowable and known by Jesus.

        Your leading and best example, which is all I’ll deal with here, Jesus acknowledgement of in Mark 13:32 of lack of knowledge regarding “the day and the hour,” is itself the proof of what I suggest – that he was affirmatively aware of this boundary. He is, in fact, in that example, openly acknowledging an awareness of the boundary the father has beforehand set.

        The particular nature of his limited knowledge doesn’t remain vague and unknown by him but rather it is particularly known by him. More importantly, it is known by him as that which the father has by intention withheld. His knowledge of that withholding is indeed at play in every moment as he lives out his humility. That he was particularly aware of this limit was an indispensable part of his human experience – of his humiliation. His awareness of that lack wasn’t merely an unfortunate after affect of his human experience but was a central feature of it.

        Viewed in the context of what Mark 13:32 actually says, can it really be said that Jesus statements indicating a belief that Adam and Eve and Noah were real persons credibly stand as parallel examples to Jesus statement regarding the day and the hour?

        It also bears noting that are many places in scripture where the father did not by intention limit Jesus foreknowledge including but obviously not limited to:

        1) Peter’s denial three times
        2) Nathanael having been under the fig tree
        3) Judas betrayal
        4) His coming death
        5) His coming resurrection
        6) His knowledge of the glory set before him

        Thanks Rich.

      • Mr. Vieira,

        Thanks for the reply.

        The two distinctions you offered regarding Jesus knowing do not contain all possible scenarios. They are satisfactory if one is content with accepting all unconditioned words of Jesus (i.e. where Jesus doesn’t expressly acknowledge lack of knowledge as in Mark 13:32) as eternal and trans-cultural Truth. If, however, as good students of scripture and creation we stumble upon some inconsistencies in what we now know about creation and Jesus’ words, then we must look at all possible distinctions. The two distinctions need to be further nuanced to understand the nature of the knowledge he lacks, both that of which he is aware and that of which he is unaware.

        1) A complete knowledge of all heavenly and earthly truth
        2) A lack of certain knowledge without awareness of that lack
        3) A lack of knowledge accompanied by an awareness of that lack and an awareness of its particular parameters
        4) A lack of knowledge with both an awareness of that lack and its particular parameters AND an unawareness of certain knowledge that falls outside those parameters. (A combination of 2 and 3. There is some knowledge about which he knows he lacks and some knowledge he lacks about which he is unaware).

        To assume #3 we must assume that every thought he had and every word he spoke (unless he acknowledged it as limited (Mark 13:32)) was free from any and all cultural error/limitation that unduly influenced his statements to original hearers in their context (i.e. Adam, Even and Noah were understood as real figures in the traditions of his day), for all these statements would have to fall within the “particular parameters” of his awareness and are therefore protected.

        This is extremely problematic. As evidence, let’s consider Jesus’ healing of the “demon-possessed boy” in Mark 9:14 (a reference I made in my last comment) The text reads, “A man in the crowd asked Jesus to heal his son, who was possessed by a demon, foamed at the mouth, gnashed his teeth and became rigid.” It’s understood today that this child suffered from epileptic seizures. This ailment was unknown to the medical community of Jesus’ day. The boy’s father instead mistakenly assumed it was a demon. Whether or not Jesus knew this is unknown to us, as is also true of his actual knowledge of Adam, Eve, and Noah in light of scientific discoveries today. However, Jesus chooses to heal the “demon possessed” boy. The text continues, “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mark 9:25). Using your argument (#3), we must ignore what modern science tells us about these symptoms and assume that because rebuked “a spirit” and that the child was in fact demon possessed. For, your argument follows, had the boy in fact not had a demon, Jesus would have corrected the mistake to avoid appearing to lack knowledge, or he would have mentioned that he didn’t have the knowledge as in Mark 13:32.

        This is exactly what this logic and argument is calling us to do with respect to Adam, Even and Noah. That despite insurmountable evidence that the world was not created in 6 literal days, 6,000 years ago and that Adam and Eve were not the very first two people created in an isolated garden from whom all humans descend as a literalist will read Genesis 1-3, and despite the evidence that a world-wide flood never existed, we must ignore this because Jesus referenced them as real people just as he referenced a demon in the boy and didn’t acknowledge a lack of knowledge in this knowledge.
        If we believe current scientific evidence (which I would argue is also Truth as all Truth is God’s Truth), then we have three options with respect to Jesus’ knowledge in these situations.

        1) Jesus believed in Adam, Eve, Noah and a demon possessed boy but was wrong – He didn’t know he was wrong – He had a self-imposed limitation of human knowledge and the knowledge about these things fell outside the parameters of things he knew.

        2) Jesus believed in Adam, Eve, Noah and a demon possessed boy but was wrong – He knew he was wrong – He had a self-imposed limitation of human knowledge and the knowledge about these things fell outside the parameters of things he knew, and he knew that.

        3) Jesus knew that Adam, Eve, Noah were not real people and that the boy was suffering from epilepsy but chose to conform to the inconsequential truth of his day to teach greater truth from this. – a knowledge that fell within the parameters of things he knew but he chose to not disclose in order to teach greater truth.

        If we don’t believe current scientific evidence, then we can assume that Jesus correctly represented Adam, Eve, Noah, and the demon possessed boy as all being literal in our interpretation of the texts in which they’re referenced.

        I’m happy for this exchange to continue offline if you’d like to dialogue further.

        Thanks, again.

        Rich

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