Creation & Evolution
A Case for Inclusivity
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, literal Creationism began to surge into primacy in popular American Christianity. Today, the issue is used to bifurcate and to galvanize, by both literal Creationist Christians and anti-theists alike.
Anti-theists use literal Creationism to demonstrate the so-called irrationality of religion in the face of scientific discovery. Meanwhile, literal Creationists use the issue as a litmus test, treating their interpretation of the Creation account as essential Christian doctrine and socially excluding those who disagree.
But is it an essential Christian doctrine? Is literal Creationism the necessary foundation for a Christian worldview?
The Orthodox View of Creation
In the 16th century AD, Martin Luther wrote the following:
The Days of Creation were ordinary days in length. We must understand that these days were actual days, contrary to the opinion of the Holy Fathers.
There's an important implication, within Martin Luther's claim, of the indeterminate nature of the interpretation of the Creation account. Most of the early (1st to 5th centuries AD) Christian pastors, overseers, apologists and theologians believed that the days of Creation symbolized some underlying reality. Some thought that a Creation-Day represented an age of 1000 years, and others thought that a Creation-Day represented something inconceivable. And, though a minority, there were also some folks who believed that Creation-Days were literal days.
The Protestant leaders of the Reformation wanted to return to a "Scripture-alone" approach to Christian doctrine. We know, however, that sometimes there is no crystal clear, black and white answer for what certain passages mean or were intended to mean. We can look at verses in the context of the surrounding passages, we can look at historical context and cultural idioms, we can pray to God for help, and we can make reasonable assumptions. But at the end of the day, sometimes there's no way to be certain of how a passage was intended to be read. As Luther implies, it can come down to opinion.
Martin Luther and John Calvin established a new popular tradition for the interpretation of the Creation account. Whereas the Creation account was once generally regarded as partially or wholly allegorical, these Protestant founders decided that, in their opinion, it was literal and didactic in every detail.
This is in contrast to early Christians like theologian Origen Adamantius, who with his colleagues "found fault" with those who took the Creation account literally, and wrote the following in 230 AD:
- The universe was created in six, 24-hour steps, in which there were evenings and mornings before the sun existed.
- Satan was literally a talking reptile.
- There was a literal tree of life and tree of knowledge.
What man of sense will argue with the statement that the first, second and third days, which the evening is named and the morning, were without sun, moon and stars? What man is found such a fool as to suppose that God planted trees in Paradise like a husbandman?... I believe every man must hold these things for images under which a hidden sense is concealed.
Now imagine if Origen and Luther, Christian theologians separated by 1300 years, were put in the same room together. It wouldn't be pretty!
It must be emphasized that in orthodox Christianity, the interpretation of the Creation account is not, nor has ever been, a settled matter of fact. The literalism so popular in modern, American Christianity was never as popular among the early Christian leaders. In fact, the early church's partially or wholly allegorical interpretation could properly be considered the "old view."
The Spiritual Goo Man
In Tour 3 of The Truth Project, Del Tackett claimed that there are two sweeping, distinct views of what a person is: the truth, and the lie.
The truth, according to Del Tackett, is that humans are created in the image of God. The lie, according to Dr. Tackett, is that humans are "goo men." Says Tackett mockingly, "Up from the goo he arose!"
The problem is this: the Bible says that both of these are true.
The Bible says that humankind was formed from dust, not miraculously generated ex nihilo ("out of nothing"). The Bible says we are "goo men" -- in fact, that's how Adam got his name. He was called Adam because he was formed from the adamah, which means "dust" or "earth" and is related to adom, which means "red."
In other words, Adam means "dustling."
I don't mean to imply that Dr. Tackett would deny these humble origins when pressed. But we can't have it both ways. If the Bible says our origins were indeed humble, dirty, and goo-like, then we shouldn't admonish mainstream science for -- roughly, of course -- concurring.
What makes us special is that we aren't merely dustlings. We also have a spiritual component within us. God did something special with us that He did for no other living creature -- He breathed the breath of life into us. And where else do we see God-breath?
Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'
This spiritual infusion is the breath of life. So even though we all look different from one another, we are all in the image of God. We are like Him in that we are ontologically spiritual, just like He is, and this component of ourselves allows us to manifest God's nature through our actions.
(Note that, though presented in a confident tone, this is only one of many different guesses about what the Imago Dei is.)
A Matter of Death
The Truth Project, in both the videos and the associated materials, quotes many outspoken anti-theists who believe, wrongly, that evolutionary theory invalidates Christianity.
But these anti-theists are not rebuked -- instead, they are quoted authoritatively.
G. Richard Bozarth, for instance, is cited as writing the following in the February 1978 issue of American Atheist:
Evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus's earthly life was supposedly made necessessary.
Dr. Tackett agrees with anti-theists like Bozarth when he says that atheism necessarily follows from evolutionary theory, and would have us agree as well. But these anti-theists are actively opposed to Christianity. They are eager to make spurious claims and draw tenuous conclusions that make Christianity look bad. Of course anti-theists will claim that evolutionary theory invalidates Christianity -- their agenda is, among other things, the eradication of Christianity!
But does evolutionary theory really invalidate Christianity? No. It merely forces us to think about death and the Fall in Biblical terms.
Evolutionary theory tells us that life on earth developed over millions of years, during which countless organisms lived and died. This contradicts only the extrabiblical (or "beyond Scripture") tradition that "No creature died before the Fall." The Bible doesn't actually say that; it is merely inferred from Scripture, especially by certain Dispensationalist interpretations.
By contrast, take a look at what Paul said about the inherent corruptibility of the "goo man."
1 Corinthians 15:47-50
The first man came from the dust of the earth; the second man [Jesus Christ] came from heaven. Those who are made of the dust are like the man from the dust; those who are heavenly are like the man who is from heaven. Just as we have borne the likeness of the man who was made from dust, we will also bear the likeness of the man from heaven. Brothers, this is what I mean: Mortal bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and what decays cannot inherit what does not decay.
As Paul argues, we are corruptible in substance. God formed material man from goo, then granted him a spirit -- God did not create a material creature that naturally lives forever without God's sustenance or "Tree of Life" (Genesis 3:22).
Christ's mission was necessary because it reconciled us with the Father. Death took hold of us when we rejected God and His life-sustaining power in favor of selfish ambition. But in Christ, death loses its grip on us because we can enjoy eternal communion with God by accepting His free gift of Grace.
Nothing Jesus said or did requires that "no creature died before the Fall." What's important is that we were once, in the Garden, free of death's fetters, and we can be so again.
Humility Versus Exclusivity
- acknowledge a degree of historicity to the allegorical view of Creation,
- that it is and always has been an open issue within Christianity,
- accept that our material bodies are that of mere "goo men,"
- and recognize that nothing about evolutionary theory makes Christ's mission irrelevant,
it becomes much easier to understand the position of those who see scientific discoveries and the Bible as compatible.
By adopting a more historical, inclusive, Christian approach to the Creation account, it is no longer necessary to appeal to deceptive, fringe "Creation Science" groups. It likewise becomes unnecessary to subscribe to conspiracy theories about, and to demonize, scientists and their discoveries (about the age of our planet, the development of material life thereon, etc.).
Early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo, who believed in a metaphorical Creation account, wrote the following in 408 AD:
It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.
This isn't to say that pragmatism should compel a person to have a particular opinion one way or the other on the matter. But it should at least compel us to be humble and open-minded, especially toward other Christians who choose to take Biblical Creation metaphorically, and who do so not to diminish its weight or revelatory significance, but to properly recognize its literary mode.
The Truth Project, however, teaches exclusivity. It teaches that such Christians have bought into "pernicious lies" and have been demonically seduced. Whether or not you personally think that evolutionary theory is compatible with the Bible, you should by now agree that this charge is outrageous and absurd.
(c) 2009 The Truth Problem.