Reflections Beyond The Creation vs. Evolution Debate

February 5, 2014 — 7 Comments

Bill-Nye-debate

Though I was too tired to actually watch it, last night Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated one another at the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Personally, I didn’t think the debate was the best idea, but it did have the advantage of setting the starkest contrast possible. If we take a book like Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate, Ham and Nye (or #HamOnNye if you want to scroll through Twitter comments) are opposite ends of the spectrum. Given the fact that it is very difficult to persuade someone they are wrong in this area, it didn’t see like a fruitful endeavor (as is true of most debates). They are the extremes in the discussion, so naturally a conversation between them is going to generate some sparks.

Ok, so I guess I see why they had the debate.

Rather than comment on the debate proper (which I haven’t seen and don’t particularly plan to), I thought I’d do some heavy link sharing. This is a conversation I have a vested interest in as I was quite the young earth creationism (YEC) crusader in undergrad. Later, I learned Hebrew and studied ANE backgrounds, and moved toward a more old-earth view (but still would not classify myself as a theistic evolutionist). I would have more or less agreed with Ham on his reading of Genesis (which is a reading of Genesis that takes the Bible seriously, not the reading of it). My perspective has changed, but before getting to that, here are several recaps you might find helpful (the first includes full video):

Overall, I’d have to say I’m more interested in the discussion itself than the content of the debate last night, mainly because I don’t agree fully with either debater. I’m kind of somewhere in between the two. So for instance, here is a rundown of how I read Genesis 1 from back in my time in seminary. I might change some here and there, maybe even pick it back up with Genesis 2 in the future:

I think this is a much better contextual understanding of the early chapters of Genesis. It has the benefit of being mute on the age of the earth, which is a theologically irrelevant question. For more on that, here is R. C. Sproul’s answer to the age of the universe, which Keith Mathison wrote an eBook commentary on.

As far as the scientific aspect goes, it is perhaps a little known fact that I taught high school biology and anatomy for a year. This allowed me to review the scientific aspects of the question of origins post-seminary. The results are captured in these two posts:

In light of that, I think the much more significant discussion is the historicity of Adam. It is a much more theologically important question, and unlike the age of the earth/universe, there are Christian worldview implications involved (as Albert Mohler would say on The Briefing). Unlike other in-house Christian debates like the days of Genesis (which Albert Mohler and Bryan Chapell briefly debated at TGC), the historical Adam overlaps with scientific inquiry. It is also where interpretations of the Biblical account, no matter how you take it, directly contradict the interpretations of modern science (notice I’m pointing out interpretations in conflict). For me, this was where the line was drawn because a) the Bible seems pretty clear about direct special creation of man, and b) the scientific evidence of common descent as it relates to man is less than compelling. I just didn’t see anything in the data that would compel me to accept that man evolved from lower life forms unless I was already committed to a naturalistic worldview and so didn’t have any other explanatory options. If nature is my Bible, then I’ll structure my “religion” accordingly and probably follow the “high priests” even into logically folly.

Other Christians see it differently. Case in point, Peter Enns (most notably in The Evolution of Adam), and Denis Lamoureux (the first contributor in Four Views on The Historical Adam). Still, there are others who have a background in science, but argue in favor of Adam’s historicity (see the other 3 contributors in the Four Views book, as well as Collins’ full length book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, and Vern Poythress’ Redeeming Science). I tend to find myself siding with the latter groups, and see their readings of both the Genesis narratives and the scientific evidence to be the most compelling.

Although I haven’t changed much, my views have certainly evolved in the past decade. What hasn’t evolved though is my worldview. While I might not agree with Ken Ham’s approach, I have more in common with him than Bill Nye. I think that’s worth keeping in mind regardless of how you answer the origins question and relate Genesis and modern science. This is certainly a discussion I like to keep tabs on, and something I may do even more reading on in the future.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

7 responses to Reflections Beyond The Creation vs. Evolution Debate

  1. Do you accept evolution, and, if so, do you have a blog post that explains how you reconcile that acceptance with ostensibly clashing Bible passages?

    • It depends on what you mean by evolution. If you mean species changing over time, then yes, but, not to the extent that most people who would take the title mean. In other words, technically, anytime one species evolves/develops into another, that’s evolution (in a macro sense). I think there is evidence of that, but that doesn’t mean it happened historically or so dramatically as a typical evolutionary theory requires (i.e. birds have a common ancestor that was a dinosaur).

      I have not modified my understanding of any biblical passage in light of evolutionary theory if that is also part of your question.

      • Thanks.

        Where then would you plot yourself on the spectrum of Bible believers who accept evolution?

        Maybe it would help if I described my view and my goal. I have a college education but I am not science oriented and see myself in no position to judge arguments involving science. Evolution seems to hold sway in the scientific community. It is my practice in life to defer to experts in fields with which I am not familiar. I am thus inclined to accept the scientific consensus regarding evolution. The problem arises in that I do not know how to reconcile the Bible with evolution. I am not hung up on “day” having to mean “24 hours” (though Ex 20:11 does give me pause), but I do have a hard time letting go of the historicity of Adam and Eve (given the New Testament references to them, as well as the Old Testament references beyond Gen 1-2).

        Moreover, even if Gen 1 is taken as figurative language, my experience with the Bible is such that I am used to there being some points of correspondence between figurative passages and the truths they are intended to convey. Thus I am having a hard time with the idea that “God did it” is the only truth I’m supposed to take away from Gen 1. All that “Let there be” and “after their kind” have to mean something, and on evolution I don’t know what that could be.

        Perhaps the greatest obstacle of all is the biblical ethos of prophetic duty, which is that neither the prophet, nor anyone who repeats his words, is to add or take away from the word of the Lord. Therefore, I cannot just take the “God said’s” in Gen 1 as just so much boilerplate blah, blah, blah.

        You seem to have wrestled with at least some of these issues, so that’s why I’m asking your position. I read your review of Enns’ “The Evolution of Adam” and your take on his views seems reasonable to me.

        • I would be an “agnostic about the age of the earth” creationist who recognizes there has been evolutionary like development in the world since creation (via super-natural selection).

          If you look at how an evolutionist like Jerry Coyne defines the terms (which you can see in one of the links in my post, the one about common ancestry), the only thing that directly conflicts the biblical accounts is accepting that men descended from apes (or that men and apes share a common ancestor). To me, it is consistent with how God works that he might have allowed an evolutionary like process to proceed as he prepared the earth for man and then directly created man interrupting the chain. He would have had to supernaturally intervene to start life itself, so there is no real issue with supernatural intervention to start human life later (just as he would supernaturally intervene to send his son to become a man later and then supernaturally intervene to raise him from the dead and start the new creation). I think the start of the old creation is parallel to the start of the new creation. It is somewhat continuous and somewhat discontinuous.

          You might find my series on Genesis 1 to help with the sense Moses was after in Genesis 1. It is, in my opinion, mostly a polemic directed against Egyptian creation accounts.

          Let me know if you find that somewhat helpful!

          • Nate,

            Thanks. I’ve perused your Genesis posts. I accept Walton’s thesis about Gen 1 with some qualification. Even so, I find his thesis of limited utility.

            The conflict I find between evolution and the Bible doesn’t have to do with science (for I don’t deem the Bible to be making any attempt to communicate science; therefore, there’s no basis for a conflict between them). Rather, the conflict between evolution and the Bible has to do with history. That is, evolution, as it is popularly understood, implies a history of humanity which is difficult, if not impossible, to correlate with the history given us by the Bible.

            I agree with you that it’s reasonable for a non-scientifically-minded person to be agnostic about the age of the earth. The primary, if not only, reason I even care about the evolution-ID-YEC-OEC debate is that we must give young people a way to navigate the world they will encounter through their education and beyond. That is, we should guide them in distinguishing what is essential to their faith and what is not. Since you are teaching high schoolers, what guidlines do you emphasize knowing what awaits them in college and beyond?

          • I spent most of time talking about philosophy of science at the rudimentary level. If people understand better how science works, they are better prepared to evaluate claims from scientists. If they buy into the popular mythology that scientific knowledge is somehow more pristine and purer than other forms of knowledge, it can create difficulties. If they understand though that scientific statements are interpretations of data, and that data is always open to other interpretations, it recasts scientific proclamations as “reasonable conclusions given certain assumptions,” rather than “pure unadulterated truth claims.”

            Basically, I get into introductory epistemology, how logic works, how truth is grounded, etc. Then I apply it to science.

          • What does that guidance lead them to conclude about evolution – and specifically evolution when it conflicts with, say, the historicity of Adam and Eve?

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