on September 28, 2006
This is a part of my continuing interest in the Creation-Evolution-Design (CED) debate. It is however a bit off my usual reading schedule, it is in the genre of personal stories, of transition from young earth creationism (YEC) to something else. I don't usually read personal stories or books with substantial personal involvement, i prefer to spend my time on science and ideas rather than with people's personal struggles. This was an online recommendation that i took seriously and am frankly glad i did. It is not a spectacularly argued book, careful but not with great flashes of insight, more understated and calmly through the years type of analysis. It has as a goal not to discourage people from reading the whole thing, not to push hot buttons and have people just put the book down in disgust and move on. It has a goal of personal involvement and sympathetic identification with the authors as they tell you their journeys in the field, and as such it is very well done. Don't read this for big ideas in the CED debate, for great pieces of refutation you can take to the online boards, it isn't that type of a book. What it is, is a gentle, kindly story of two rather smart and sensitive men studying how their youthful background ought to interact with their adult callings and their studies of both God's World and God's Word over time and with increasing maturity and sensitivity to nuance.
I'd recommend this to every YEC, to anyone who struggles with the issues in CED, to anyone who reads Genesis and asks real hard questions. It is designed for this audience, it is very sympathetic to their concerns and sensitivities, and ought not to upset even the most hard boiled YECist. I'd just read it front to back, in order, not because the chapters are in a logical and necessary order requiring this, but because the author's have given some real thought to how important ideas interact and structure the book to be such a journey. It really is best just read as a novel, then go back and highlight and read for detail. Just breeze through the first time for the passion and the pain the authors wish to transfer to the reader as their story of their studies.
Outline and pull-quotes
"Many believing Christians have experienced crises of faith, and personal rejections when they have chosen to accept an account of origins that is based on reasoned interpretation of centuries of scientific observation, because this account does not coincide with a literal interpretation of Genesis." pg 11
"but this way to a middle position has been made perilous by the bitter polarization between proponents of 'either/or" positions on both sides."
"in its place they have embraced understandings that are more modest, tentative, and nuanced, but ultimately also more satisfying, durable and empowering." pg 12
"of how the Bible's moral teaching can be considered reliable when its cosmology and other scientific claims must be recognized as derived from a primitive, observational perspective."
"after demonstrating that this account's cosmology is indeed phenomenological(it describes how things appear, rather than how they actually are), the authors explore the implications"pg 14
"This occurs when people who are not familiar with the Bible mistakening equate creationist claims, which are ultimately untenable with the Bible's actual teachings." pg 16
"Although it felt as if they were abandoning their faith, as a step of faith they began to trust the fruits of the vocations to which God had called them, rather than the dogmatic pronouncements that had always provided such security up to that point. The end result has been to trade security for adventure in the continuing life of faith." pg 17
Part 1: Creationism and Paleontology, by Stephen J. Godfrey
Chapter 1: The dog skeleton and my grandmother's toothbrush
"to answer this question first by engaging the book of Genesis, rather than the theory of evolution. I was raised in an evangelical Christain home. We considered the concept of evolution a rival to the Bible's explanation of the origins of biological diversity. We equated it with man's attempt to deny the existence of God."
"evolution proclaimed an "ateleology," or absence of inherent purpose in the created world. Therefore, by implication and overt affirmation, anyone who espoused a belief in evolution necessarily had abandoned belief in the existence of God and had a strictly naturalistic and mechanistic view of the universe."
"The appeal of evolutionary theory to the atheist, we were taught, lay in its apparent ability to absolve man of his moral responsibility to an almight God who had created all that there is." pg 23
"my trust in the Bible as a book of divine origin hinged at that time upon the expectation that when it spoke on matters relating to science, its statements would be accurate by today's standards, rather than reflecting the observational perspective of the culture in which it was composed. Establishing objective scientific accuracy in a book from ancient times would prove that the author had been given some supernatural or divine insight with the natural realm, and this would be a sign to indicate that when the Bible spoke on matters relating to morality, it drew on the same supernatural, authoritative source." pg 31-2
Chapter 2: Those fossilized footprints in kansas
"It would be difficult for me to overstate the impact these simple fossilized fooprint impressions had upon me. In retrospect, I don't think anything else I have ever seen has so profoundly changed my life." pg 39
"Many years later, as I read more widely on the history of the development of geology, I discovered that some nineteenth-century geologists had suggested that the Flood had been a quiet one, leaving no significant geological effects. They had been pushed to suggest this alternative in an attempt to preserve the historical reality of the story, while admitting that they were unable to identify global effects of Noah's Flood. Having never seen this alternative suggested in any creationist literature, I was impressed with the ingenuity of these nineteenth-century geologists." pg 43
"Once i entertained the notion that the earth migh be old, I had to call into question all the rest of the 'scientific creationist' paradigm. Why? Because it was all based on a single lynchpin claim about the age of the earth. ... matters of eternal importance were on the line. After all, the paradigm was based on the explicit statement that the truth of the entire Bible hinged on the scientific accuracy of a literal rendering of the first chapters of Genesis" pg46
"Footprint fossils spoke to me personally as silent witnesses to the great antiquity of this planet." pg 52
Chapter 3: same place, different times-or same time, different places?
"any given organism will only be found with certain other organism, and only in certain areas." pg 57
"the proof that the answer is 'same place, different times' lies in the observation that the vast majority of fossils are preserved at or very near to where they lived." pg 61
"I knew now that in their vast majority different kinds of organisms had lived at different times on earth." pg 71
Chapter 4: what did it mean to create?
"How many times had God created new kinds of organisms, and when had He done so?" pg 73
"I would have been content to believe that God had miraculuously created every species instantaneoulsy at different times in the geological past, except that I could not help but notice the lines paleontologists were drawing connecting fossils so as to describe evolutionary lineages." pg 74
"Perhaps a created kind could encompass all the species that we currently place within a genus, or even all the species and genera within a taxonomic family. ... So maybe no originally created kind boundaries had been bridged. ... As appealing as this second possibility was, I recognized that to embrace it would be to take another significant step away from my creationist origins." pg 79
"it seemingly removed God from being a necessary link in the creative process?"
"First, there were bridging morphologies between major groups of organisms, such as dinosaurs and birds. Second, it was also true that similar organisms were more likely to occur close together in geologic time than they were to be separated by vast amounts of time." pg 81
"I felt as though God as a proximal agent in the creation of life, was being removed from the creative process. This belief was too fundamental a conviction for me to waltz away from without emotional consequences." pg 82
Chapter 5: atheistic meteorolgoy of divine rain?
"I wondered what part a person of faith should consider God to play in sending rain. Furthermore what part, if not all, of meteorology should we not bother studying, because therein lies the domain of God, a realm beyond scientific study."
"for our lack of consistency when it came to biblical interpretation. I realized at that time that we were content to let natural processes account for precipitation, but when it came to the origin of biological diversity, we were adamant that no natural processes could or would ever be found to account for something the Bible attributed to the actions of God." pg 84
"If none of these came to us from a close reading of the Bible, but rather from a careful study of nature, then we should reasonably expect to have to study nature at least as closely to learn anything about the mechanisms that generated biological diversity, especially in the light of the fact that the Bible is also silent on the natural mechanisms of evolution." pg 85
"So how have Christians reconciled meteorology with the Bible's clear message that God is responsible for the production of rain? " pg 86
"For me, the question of the origin of biological diversity no longer necessarily carries with it any theological baggage. It is simply a scientific question. Put it another way, the question of orgins is only as theological as the origin of rain." pg 88
"it would be intellectually lazy, and unscientific, to claim that it simply must have happened as a result of direct, supernatural intervention by God." pg 89
Part 2: Creationism and Biblical Interpretation
Christopher R. Smith
Chapter 6: Limericks and Epics
"The result was that the mainline Christian theology I had learned to that point was quickly supplemented by an amalgam of fundamentalist, evangelical, Pentecostal, and charismatic perspectives." pg 96
"I continued to approach the Bible in the way typical of the broad movement within which I had come to a personal faith in Christ, as if it could be read meaningfully a verse here and a verse there. ... shaping principle... They were unresolved because because they were unresolvable with the paradigm for biblical interpretation I shared with my Christian community, in which isolated verses or passages were read literally and non-contextually." pg 99-100
"Nevertheless, I continued to believe that Genesis 1 was a exact description of the events of the first six days of the physical creation. If I had had to account for light without the sun on the first three days, I would have appealed to some supernatural agency." pg 101
Chapter 7: Meredith Kline and the "Framework" View
"I sat back in awe as he spoke: he was brilliant, and a meticulous scholar, but his deep faith and Christ-like character shone through everything he said and did. This was a rare combination. I felt it set a standard toward which I should aspire."
"His theological commitments, strong as they were, were not primary, he was first and foremost a biblical scholar, and he carried out his scholarship specifically through a careful reading of the text." pg 106
"The was probably the first time I had seen that if we want to interpret the Bible accurately and credibly, we need to approach it on its own terms, that is, by understanding and respecting the literary conventions according to which it was written." pg 108
"what does the Bible say about how God sustained the creation while it was in process? Was this through supernatural agencies, or through natural providence?" pg 109
"This did not sit well with me, as the premise of supernatural agency was the key to my literal reading."
"He first made the case that the opening creation account in Genesis must be considered 'poetry'." alliteration, assonance, parallelism pg 110
"There was a amazing depth of meaning I had never appreciated before in the account of the days of creation. This passage was not so much a description of how we got here as an explanation of why we were here. It had a moral purpose, challenging humans to acknowledge God's' supreme lordship, despite their pretensions to self-determination and self-sufficiency." pg 111
"to portray Jesus as coming at the beginning of the seventh seven of generations after Abraham, the generation of sabbath or jubilee? pg 112
"that i did not necessarily have to make a stark choice between a creationist paradigm (unscientific but moral) in which people are accountable to God for how they treat others, and an evolutionary one (scientific, but amoral), in which life consists of a ruthless quest for domination." pg 114
"We need to witness and participate in the 'Sabbath enthronement of God' as the culmination of creation." pg 115-6
"(by non-literal I mean one in which words and phrases are not necessarily descriptions, even figurative ones, of historical events.)"
"My main point was that the prevailing belief about natural history had changed first, in response to the 'spirit of the age' or Zeitgeist that emphasized 'progress'". pg 116
Chapter 8: was Adam created before or after the animals?
"The only conclusion I could come to was that he did not understand himself to be writing history, contrary to our characteristic expectations of his work. The implications were profound. It was not necessary to struggle to match up the Genesis narratives with the events of natural and human history! Something else was going on in the pages of this inspired ancient book." pg122
"The final effect is the portrayal of Jesus as arriving at (indeed, as constituting) the beginning of a time of spiritual rest and renewal in the life of the nation (corresponding to the concepts of 'sabbath' and 'jubilee' in the Old Testament), Genealogy provides the canvas on which this portrait is painted, but what we have before us is clearly closer to art than history." pg 123
"the the purpose especially of these early chapters was to explain the brokenness of human existence as the cumulative result of alienation from God." pg 125
"how God's crative activity, as described solved a twofold problem ('the earth was without form and void') by making a place for everything and then putting everything in its place."
"we are God's stewards and vice-regents, meant to superintend creation, but specifically meant to do this in service to God, in whose sabbath enthronement we must participate." pg 126
"Like me, they had always been taught that the source of our confidence in the inspiration and authority of the Bible is that long ago everything really happened just as it describes, because it is speaking from a divine eyewitness perspective. But if a greater familiarity with the text discloses that the Bible is not always making historical statements-indeed, in some places connat be making them-the waht is the source of our confidence in it and especially in its' moral program? Whe not read any other collection of edifying tales, and be guided by their cumulative morality instead?" pg 128-9
"what is the source of our confidence in the Bible, if it doesn't make amazingly accurate natural scientific statements long before this was humanly possible?" pg 129
"But the solution, I saw more clearly than ever, was not let any religious or philosophical positions become confused with reasoned descriptions of scientific observations." pg 133
"The Bible is written from an observational perspective." "To me, there seems to be a providential purpose in the Bible's observational descriptions: they allow it to travel into every culture as the word of God." pg 134
"that the Bible's entire cosmology that is, its description of the universe around us, is consistently observational."
"In time I came to be amazed at how pervasive this observational 'cosmology' was in the Bible, but even more so at how indifferent I and others had been to it while at the same time being very concerned about reconciling the Bible's 'cosmogony' or its description of how the universe came to be, with scientific descriptions. Why the double standard? Why did we not bat an eyelash at observational cosmology, but insist on the literal truth of what migh be a similiarly observation cosmogony?" pg 135-6
"their descriptions must rathe be intended essentially as literal, given the limiations on the observations they and their contemporaries could have made. The biblical authors do not appear to have been granted supernatural insights into the non-apparent facts of cosmology." pg 136
"This leaves open the question, of course, of how the biblical writers, if they truly were inspired by God, could have been 'wrong' at least by contemporary scientific standards, as they described how the world came to be." pg 138
Chapter 9: it says somewehre, 'God rested'
"They all attribute to a supernatural casue(the action of God) results which, the more closely one studies them, appear more and more to have come about through natural process. ... This does not mean that God is not the actor; it simply means that God has not chosen to use a radically different proces to bring about what is nevertheless a divine product." pg 139
"on something other than the inevitably disappointing premise that it bears magical signs pointing to its divine origin." pg 140
"but that the God who superintends and overrules human affairs has demonstrated His unchanging character consistently through time and has revealed more and more of his purposes while reaffirming the earlier-revealed ones." pg 143
"the significance of 'intertextuality,' that is, of the new meanings texts take on when they are read in the presence of other texts."
"Has God really promised us that his word can be recognized as his word even without faith?" pg 145
"If God were going supernaturally to override ordinary human weaknesses in the compostion process in order to signal a divinely inspired product, this would have been an awfully good place to intervene!" pg 146
Chapter 10: fishing in the middle of the lake
"If it's the same lake, that is, the work of the same God being viewed through different faculties (reason and faith), there ought not to be any essential differences in what the nature of this work implies about the character and action of that God." pg 153
"What are the issues, then, that we must take up as we consider whether natural history as sketched by biological science today is theologically compatible with the history of creation and redemption as narrated in the Bible?" pg 154
"imitative of God's creative activity in restraining the wildness of the unformed universe and creating order and harmony." pg 156
"So we should understand that God views all life as valuable in itself and for its own sake." pg 157
"But Jesus exhibited the qualities of both justice and mercy, in keeping with the self-disclosure of God throughout the Bible." pg 158
"The Genesis creation account itself is one of God shaping and ordering an already existing chaotic mass, rather than one of strictly ex nihilo creation" pg 159
"We see in these chapters that what is unique about humans is not the process by which they come about, but rather the purpose for which God makes them."
"human possession of a soul...human reception of a divine commission to superintend the earth...human capacity for relationships..."pg 161
"From the biblical perspective, however, 'better' does not mean more complex or capable; it means more in keeping with God's intentions, which are for rightly-ordered relationship among all creatures."
"the human race develops into a civilization whose cultural achievements are increasingly more complex, but in which relationships become more and more disordered." pg 169
"the biblical understanding of the curse is that it consists primarily in disordered relationships, in the fracturing of God's shalom." pg 171
"I do not believe we can understand the human condition rightly if we do not posit an essential disordering of relationship with God, others, and self that has had cumulative devastating effects on our physical, social, mental, emotinal, and spiritual health, effects that are leading us to have an equally devastating effect on the world around us." pg 172
Conclusion: Genesis cosmology and its implications
"the original audience of the Genesis creation account would have heard and understood it in the way just presented." pg 177
"a 21st-century cosmological understanding. His reading was suffering from the proverbial 'paradigm effect'. Therefore, in rereading the creation account, he made a conscious effort to forget what he knew about the structure of our solar system and the universe beyond." pg 178
"it brightened everything up considerably, but he realized that if he had not known that this diffuse dawn and dusk light came from the sun, there would have been no reason for him to believe that it did" pg 181
"But the simplest explanation is that it means the light that appears in the sky before the sun rises and remains in the sky after the sun sets, fading waay until it can be seen no more." pg 182
"One way to summarize our argument is this: if you feel that you must believe in a young earth on the basis of a commitment to a literal reading of Genesis, you must also believe in a flat earth on that same basis."
"So all those who are called to scientific enterprise should pursue that calling without fear or doubt, but rather with joy and enthusiasm. "pg 193
"That is, the Genesis author does not demonstrate knowledge far beyond what he could have had in the time and culture in which he lived. Like his contemporaries, he had little idea how vast and complex the universe actually is."
"contrast two statements: Because the Bible is scientifically accurate, it's the word of God. Because the Bible is the word of God, it's scientifically accurate. .. the expectation that the 'word of God' will reflect the divine omniscience of its ultimate Author." pg 194
"the Genesis author does not seem to be aware of the limitations of his own knowledge. In other words, not only does he not know, he does not know that he does not know. While his descriptions of creation and cosmology is phenomenological, he believes it to be objectively accurate." pg 196
"All-or-nothing thinking rarely leads us to the truth, which we typically find nestled in a more elsuvie and nuanced place." pg 197
"Whike the human authors of the Bible would have had limitations when it came to their knowledge of the natural world, they would not necessarily have had similar limiations when it came to knowing God, relationally and experientially."
"Rather, real people, immersed in real places and times, have left us a record, inspired by God himself, of how they came into a life-transforming relatinship with their Creator." pg 199
on May 3, 2008
I received my copy of Paradigms on Pilgrimage (Clements Publishing, 2005) this week, and finished it in a couple of sittings ... which is to say that I found it hard to put down. The authors, Stephen J. Godfrey and Christopher R. Smith write of their personal pilgrimages out of a YEC paradigm which they were taught earlier in life, and into an understanding of the evolutionary history of life on earth. The two men, brothers-in-law, have backgrounds in different disciplines. Godfrey is a trained paleontologist, and Smith is a student of the Biblical interpretation and literary science. Each describe the succession of understandings as they struggled to integrate what became for them undeniable -- evolutionary science -- with their Biblical faith. Any believer who struggles with this huge shift in paradigms would benefit from the personal accounts of their respective journeys.
Stephen Godfrey writes the opening five chapters. His style is engaging and, at times, entertaining (chapter one is entitled, "The Dog Skeleton and My Grandmother's Toothbrush"). As Godfrey receives his training in descriptive paleontology, and as he becomes proficient in the science of fossils, his long-held assumptions of Young Earth Creationism and Flood Geology are rocked again and again. He entered the field, in part, hoping to find evidence in the fossil record to support his YEC views. But instead he finds that the fossil record renders Flood Geology wholly untenable, and that it strongly supports the evolutionary hypothesis. What I found interesting is that, even in the face of this mounting evidence, Godfrey clings to a literalist view of early Genesis, and he continues to look for something, anything, some shred of data that might be used to discount Darwin and/or substantiate a literal reading of Genesis. He describes the chronology of his personal discoveries and his ensuing struggle, and leads the open-minded reader to understand why his ultimate acceptance of evolution was the only reasonable conclusion.
These chapters are filled with illustrations and fossils that tell amazing stories of the history of life on earth; I found them fascinating. The chapters dealing with trace fossils should forever put to rest the idea that the Flood is responsible for laying down our fossil rich geological strata. At one time, I found the notion of so-called "polystrate fossils" (fossilized trees which are said to pass through multiple strata of sedimentary deposits suggesting that all these layers were the result of a single catastrophic event) quite convincing. Still looking for that shred of evidence for Flood Geology, Godfrey describes his disappointment when he personally observed this phenomenon: "Some young-earth creationists ... were claiming that places like Joggins, where fossilized trees were seen to pass upright though the surrounding sedimentary rocks, provided powerful evidence that the world had been overtaken suddenly by a global flood. I had once believed this to be true. However, after visiting Joggins, I knew first hand that this could not be. The tree stumps lined up along clearly visible, once horizontal, beds" (page 49).
Christopher Smith takes up the account of his pilgrimage in the second half of the book. Trained in theology, Biblical languages and literary studies, his shifting paradigm travels along a slightly different course from Godfrey's. Like his co-author and brother-in-law, Smith was taught a YEC perspective as a young person, and he tenaciously stuck to his views even during his years at Harvard University where he was among an extreme minority. Not until the time of his graduation did he begin to experience doubt about his literalist/creationist understandings. He describes the processes involved in the ultimate merging of his Biblical faith with what he was learning about his world from the various fields of scientific inquiry. In short, he develops a hermeneutic which not only accommodates good science, but is far more in keeping with the internal evidence of the Bible itself. Far from undermining his confidence in the Bible, this new paradigm has opened new vistas upon the Biblical truth, and given him fresh insight into what God is really communicating through the inspired scriptures.
Some believers may struggle with some of Smith's methods of understanding and interpreting Scriptures. Paradigm shifts in theology and Biblical interpretation are never easy. Smith's views do not entirely line up with my own. But I appreciate his honesty in dealing with Scriptures with intellectual honesty.
The final chapter of the book returns to the first chapter of the Bible, in light of the Ancient Near-eastern Cosmology context in which it was written. Genesis 1 can only be understood in light of its historical context. The authors help us to see that, read properly, Genesis is not in conflict with evolution.
I wish every evangelical and fundamental believer could read this book. Making the journey from a YEC perspective into an acceptance of evolutionary science can be a painful and difficult experience. But in light of the overwhelming evidence for evolution, it is a journey believers must be willing to make. This book can be very useful in smoothing that path.