Theological Challenges to the Goodness of God
I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to questions concerning the origin of life, science, and the Bible. I believe that the Bible tells us the absolute truth about the Who and Why of Creation, but I’m not convinced that the Bible was intended to be an infallible scientific treatise on the How of Creation: how God actually did it. For instance, the Bible speaks of the rising and the setting of the Sun, which is an accurate description of our experience of Creation, but it isn’t, strictly speaking, scientifically true. The earth rotates; the Sun doesn’t actually rise and set. This seems obvious to us today and poses no challenge to our theology or our faith, for we recognize that the ancients did not have space ships to see the earth’s location in the solar system. However, Galileo was almost burned at the stake by the Church for declaring that the Earth was not the center of the Universe in 1613. The Catholic Church saw in this scientific discovery a direct attack on the truthfulness of God’s Word. It seemed to them that if the Earth were not the center of the Solar System, then the rest of the Scriptures would also be untrue. We now easily jump that hurdle by recognizing that the perspectives and the poetry of the writers is accurate, even if their scientific understanding was not. Since the Bible lays out moral truth that is unchanging, we can make room for a lack of practical knowledge on the part of the writers. God, it seems, inspires the Word supernaturally with spiritual and moral truth, but not the writers with scientific omniscience.
In theological terms, the Scriptures are, in part, the product of the culture and express the worldviews of that day and age. The Scriptures are made incarnate by being part of the fabric of everyday life in a particular time and place. The writers wrote in Hebrew or Greek, they did not write in Mandarin or Latin languages they did not know. Not only would it not have been helpful to their peers, but it would have been insane for them to write the Scriptures in modern English! The writers wrote the words of God’s inspiration through their knowledge and culture in the place in time in which they lived. All of which brings us to the question of Evolutionary Theory and the conflict over the origins of life: how could the ancients have known the science of how God mechanically created all things?
It is very interesting that in spite of their lack of scientific knowledge, the writers and recorders of the first chapter of Genesis describe a Big Bang Creation, a timeline of species, and finally the Creation of human beings in somewhat the same order as does modern science. However, in chapter 2, we see a reverse creation with human beings created first followed by the rest of the animal kingdom. From a strictly literal point of view, we have a conflict of timelines in the Bible itself. I have heard it said that the creation of Adam and Eve in chapter 2 is window into the value God places on every individual, while chapter 1 disclosed God’s corporate purpose for humankind. In other words, chapter 1 is more historical and the chapter 2 is more poetic in nature. I’m not sure I can accept the distinctions so easily. But it would be a major shock to us if Moses, as the collector of the stories of the ancestors, actually intended the story of Adam and Eve as a parable of the origins of sin, rather than as a pure historical fact. Jesus used parables all the time to teach deeper truths than factual histories ever could, so it isn’t beyond God’s principles to use parables to teach us about things that we cannot understand or grasp with our limited minds.
That being said, it doesn’t mean I accept evolutionary theory as a scientific fact. I accept it as a theory as to how God might have done it, but I see it as having major problems. First of all, the idea of accidental creation and unguided evolution has real problems in terms of probability. I have been persuaded by reading the works of the Intelligent Design community that the mathematical probability of complex, ordered systems, like DNA’s genetic coding, occurring by accident are so far fetched that Evolutionary theory by itself is almost irrational. It takes an unfounded faith to believe in accidental unguided evolution, and it should be treated as a faith rather than as a scientific belief founded upon either reason or evidence. It is mathematically so improbable that it makes more sense to believe alien beings guided evolution than evolution occurred by pure chance. There are other problems pointed out with the Theory of Evolution by evolutionists themselves, one of which is the sudden appearance of multiple new species without antecedents. That led Stephen Jay Gould to create a theory of Punctuated Equilibrium to explain these inconsistencies.
But I am not here to debate all the current scientific theories and their alternates. I want to raise the one issue I see as a major theological obstacle to the theory of either guided evolution through intelligent design or accidental creation. Or to put it another way, I wish to point out the major challenge to a biblical truth posed by both accidental Evolution and the theory of Intelligent Deign.
One of the most important theological concepts of both Genesis 1 and 2 is that there was no violence, murder or death before sin entered the Creation by man’s rebellion. In Genesis 1, God gives the people and the animals, “every green plant for food,” (Gen 1:30). No predation was to mar the created order. No animal would feed upon another and no human being would kill either animal or man. The book of Isaiah looks both backward to Genesis and forward to the end time, when it declares:
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.- Isaiah 11:9
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD.- Isaiah 65:25
A major theme of the Bible is that because of sin, death entered the creation and all nature became “red in tooth and claw.” Adam sinned, was kicked out of the Garden, and one of his sons killed the other. Animals began to eat each other, and death became part of the Creation.
The problem with evolutionary theories of all sorts, as I see it, and with the fossil record, regardless of theories, is that all these things point to a time before humanity existed when both nature and the Earth were full of predatory creatures, death and violence. Before humans sinned, pain and striving existed upon the Earth.
Since God is the only Creator, and since, as Paul says, “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20), I have come to believe that anything in the Earth as a fossil record is there because God created it, allowed it to be, and left it there for our discovery. I believe that the investigation of Creation leads directly to the hand of the Creator, not away from Him, although one can misinterpret the signs and evidence What I’m saying is that the fact that there are fossils from long ago mean that God was involved somehow in this document of the Earth.
Yet just as Galileo’s observations posed a theological problem in his day for the Church, I see the idea of Evolution posing the same assault on the integrity of God’s Word, not because it attacks its scientific foundation, but because it attacks its moral foundation its teaching about the origin and reason for sin, pain, death and violence. If violence and death existed before sin, then it makes the story of Adam’s exile, and our experience of death and suffering, less coherent.
Just because scientific theories make no sense to me theologically does not mean I am closing myself off to the possibility of their being accurate histories. I am keeping an open mind about the ‘science’ of origins. But I am deeply troubled by the theological implications and have not found any way to reconcile the truth of Scripture with the history and theories of Creation. You cannot ignore the reality of dinosaur bones and the fossils of ingested animals inside the bones of another. So, I am left in a quandary about how to make sense of it all from a Biblical standpoint.
There are a few theories I’ve heard for making sense of Genesis, one of which I alluded to with the poetic theory of Adam and Eve. The problem with the poetic theory is that the writers trace back Jewish, and all human ancestry, right to Adam and Eve. Now most commentators believe that even these genealogies did not name every son of every father, but were family names of major individuals. For example, if we lived a thousand years from the founding of the United States, we might say something like, Washington was the Father of the Americans, his Son was Jefferson, his Son was Lincoln, his son was Kennedy The way oral histories were passed down in ancient times, it would make sense to name significant families and individuals in just that way. That still leaves us with the biblical genealogy dating back to Adam. Adam is always considered an historical figure by all the writers in Scripture. The only caveat I offer to this fact is that Adam in Hebrew means Man, and so Adam is also a representation of every single individual who has lived, since all of us have a broken fellowship with God because of our sins. If Adam were a parable rather than an historical figure, he would be a parable of Everyman representing all of us in our broken relationship with God.
A second theory I’ve heard is that of a “Gap” or two creation theory. The theory goes something like this: the words “in the beginning” in Hebrew do not actually mean a creation out of nothing, but mean something indeterminate. Thus, Genesis 1 is translated:
When God began creating the heavens and the earth, when the earth was waste and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, then God said, Let there be light; and there was light.
The idea here is that the Earth pre-existed and God was remaking the Earth. The Gap was between the first creation which God destroyed with water because of its corrupt ions and with it, destroyed the dinosaurs, and then started over with a Garden of Eden.
There are a couple of problems with this idea, not the least of which is the grammatical contortions necessary to insist on such an interpretation. It appears the only reason this translation gains any traction is because the evidence of the fossil record has caused people to question the historical accuracy of the Genesis narrative. The problem I see fitting Genesis into an historical timeline is that the plants start growing before the Sun, the Moon, and the stars are created; i.e., before there is a solar system. If God himself is the Light that warms the ground and causes the plants to grow, we are dealing with a supernatural dimension of existence, not a material and scientific one. We are talking about a different creation that would not follow a natural timeline. However, we also see the elements of poetic speech in this chapter, especially as a way of describing the heavens. The word firmament in old English is a translation of the Hebrew word for a hammered metal bowl. So lets look at what is being said here:
And God said, “Let there be a hammered bowel turned upside down (firmament) in the midst of the waters (primordial chaos), and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. – Genesis 1:6-8, RSV.
The creation of the Sun and the Moon after the Earth makes sense if the Earth is the center of the Universe and the Sun and the stars rotate around the Earth across the hammered bowl. You would first need the Earth and then you would place stars like dots in the heavens. But according to a scientific view, the Earth can’t exist in time and space and provide life without a solar system. The sun would have to be created before the plants could have light and life. The order of creation is backwards from a scientific standpoint.
This scientific sequence provides even more problems for the idea of a “Gap,” or two creation hypothesis. There isn’t a gap recorded between the creation of the light and the rest of the creation in Genesis. To fit in a gap between the first creation of the Earth and a remaking, you’d actually need to destroy the sun, moon, and stars as well, since the solar system and the stars are not created until day 4! In Genesis, the solar system is created after the Earth. If you start over after a gap of destruction of a first creation, there would be no solar system and no Earth left to contain a fossil record! The Earth wouldn’t have just been covered with the waters of chaos it could not have existed at all without the solar system, since there would have been no gravity to hold it in place. Since, according to scientific reasoning, the Earth was created during the creation of the solar system, the fossil record had to be placed in the ground after the solar system was created and after any supposed “Gap” between the creation of light and the rest of the universe. A “Gap” theory cannot explain the fossil record and be reconciled to Genesis’ timeline of events.
In short, it is impossible to make the timeline of Genesis line up with what we think scientifically about the order of creation. Science and Genesis are in conflict about the basic nature of the solar system. Surely God could have created an earth and then created the sun and moon and stars around it, but it doesn’t follow the observations we see of the sequence of creation in the rest of the Universe. All the momentum spins outward from the center of gravity, whether that be solar mass or a galactic center.
|Creation Timeline Genesis vs. Science
Let there be Light
Waters of Chaos separated
Earth, seas, plant life
Sun, Moon, Stars
Fish and Birds
Land animals and human beings
Expansion of Universe into galaxies and solar systems
Formation of planets, microscopic life in the seas and plant life
Already created and necessary for Day 3!
Sea life of larger creatures
Life evolves – mammals and much later – humans
All happens on 1 day, but God creates first Man, then plants, then animals, then the woman.
*For the “Gap” to occur it either has to occur before Day 1 or before Day 2, the problem is there would be no earth to have a fossil record, since the solar system was not yet created!
While the creation of light and the stars corresponds to a scientific Big Bang, there doesn’t seem to be any material evidence for a wipeout and redo of all life after the Earth is formed except as the result of a huge asteroid. Even if you were to interpret the asteroid event as an event before Genesis 1:1, the problem still exists that the animals were meat eaters long before humans arrived on the scene.
So, it seems Genesis 1 is not intending to be a strictly scientific document following a pure Big Bang timeline. Or if it is meant to be an accurate history, then we still must deal with the problem of meat eating, pre-historic animals.
I do not know if it is possible to reconcile the Scriptures with scientific histories, and I’m not sure Scripture is supposed to be a complete ‘how it happened.’ But I am sure, it is meant to be a why and by whom it happened. The question that gets to the issue of God’s goodness then is: if God did indeed create a world before sin that was full of violence and bloodshed, why did He? How can a good God create in such a way, especially since the idyllic vision, promoted by Isaiah as the revelation of God’s hope, is a peaceable kingdom where they do not hurt nor destroy on my holy mountain? If God did create a violent Earth with inevitable death and suffering, then sin was not the cause of the Creation’s troubles but the inevitable result of those born into a world where death and sorrow reigned.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8:20-22, NIV.
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17-19, NIV.
I am going to offer an interpretation of Genesis that is, what I would call, spiritual or speculative theology. In other words, I am embarking on some ideas which have biblical merit but little to support them in the way of scientific or historical evidence. Just as the Resurrection of Jesus Christ cannot be verified scientifically, yet we who believe – believe that it is an historical event, I want to point to certain scriptures which give us a window into an alternate reality that breaks down the barrier between time and eternity, between the dimensions of this world and whatever heaven actually is.
First of all, where is heaven? Where is the dwelling place of God? Scientifically speaking, we know that heaven is not simply above the atmosphere or even among the stars. Scientifically speaking, heaven is a trans-dimensional reality: a place where the boundaries of time and space cross into timelessness and eternity. Einstein might have called this a 5th or 6th dimension. Heaven would have to be a place not bound by the laws of material decay or even by time. Time has a beginning and an end, but our understanding is that God is without limits, without beginning or end, so time must be subject to the Creator, just as the finite must be subject to the infinite. This material universe is bounded both by the limits of time and the speed of light. But time and light are compressed to nothing in a black hole, which is a point of infinite gravity stopping all light and the progress of time. If time can be bound by matter and gravity, time is not infinite. If it is not infinite, it is created and must be subject to the Creator’s infinite nature.
My point is that when the ancients described visions into this heavenly realm, they could not describe it with normal words and they had no scientific way to describe the space-time continuum. They described these encounters with infinity the only way they could, with references from this Earth’s perspective.
Here are a few scriptures which describe this human experience of an infinite, timeless reality:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows– 2 Corinthians 12:2, 3, RSV. Here Paul speaks of some incredible encounter that he cannot put into earthly words.
And when he (Jesus) had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” -Acts 1:9-11, RSV. The people standing by see Jesus leaving not just the material earth but crossing into the dimensions of heaven and cannot explain it except to describe it like clouds as they look up.
Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” -John 20:26, RSV. Jesus is able to pass through material walls and structures.
After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. -Genesis 5:22-24, NKJV. Enoch does not die but walks into heaven.
And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. -Exodus 24:8-11, RSV. The elders of Israel walk into a place where the pavement is transparent like sapphires and eat with God.
And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces. -2 Kings 2:11, 12, RSV. Elijah is carried into heaven and does not die.
Before sin, Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day. Perhaps the Garden was the freeway between heavenly places and the Earth, upon which Adam and Eve could move, but when sin entered, they were denied access to eternity and eternal life and heavenly places? If the Earth was suddenly thrust into time and made subject to the ‘forces of nature,’ then we cannot even being to imagine what consequences there were for geology, the animal and plant kingdoms. Fear and death infected not only human kind but also the animal kingdom.
While this cataclysmic event can explain massive floods, earthquakes, devastations and the unleashing on predatory behaviors, it doesn’t quite explain the fossil record of dinosaurs and trilobites buried in ancient seas. But what if time and history were warped by this plunge into chaos? What if the Earth’s physical history were re-written? I know this sounds idea sounds strangest of all, and it is why I only offer it as speculative theology. How could Earth’s past be affected by our present?
The latest theories of Quantum Mechanics and the nature of time are really strange. There is a mathematical possibility, according to scientists that things we do today affect what happened in the past.* This theory is way beyond my ability to master either with mathematics or with common sense, but the point is that time is relative. What if our beliefs today actually affect the substance of the past? Sound implausible? Yeah, to me too. But just think about this for a moment: how could 70 million year old dinosaur DNA and blood tissue be preserved in fossils and found today? This sounds just plain wrong. Either our timeline for dinosaurs is way out of whack or something is really unexplainable. Yet recently, they have cracked open T Rex bones and found blood and marrow.
What if the shared consciousness of millions of people, having seen Jurassic Park and thinking about cloning, caused a change in the reality of our world, allowing us to find DNA in 70 million year old fossils? What if shared beliefs actually affect the nature of the material world and cause changes in it? Oh well, it’s a long shot, but I tried… I still think that the recent discovery of marrow tissue in 70 million year old fossilized bones makes about zero sense. Maybe the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs wasn’t as long ago as we have been led to believe.
The first dinosaur bones were discovered in the late 17th Century, before Darwin’s theories were written. I actually think that the existence of dinosaur bones caused people to wonder, and when the theory of Evolution came along, they started to see these ancient bones as possible stages of pre-historic evolution. The fossils existed before anyone knew what they were or believed ‘in’ them as evolutionary evidences. So, the idea of contemporary beliefs effecting changes in the material world wouldn’t apply. They wouldn’t have known what dinosaurs were to be able to believe in them. Of course, this would be no problem for Quantum theories of Causality, because our beliefs and actions today could be causing the discoveries in the past. Like I said, I understand neither the math nor the logic of this “science,” but scientists also teach accidental Evolution… so, take it for what it is worth…
My point is this: if the Fall were a supernatural event like the Resurrection, there would be little in the way of evidence to prove the case. The Garden of Eden did not fall. Humanity was kicked out of this heavenly place. In heaven, the laws of cause and effect do not apply as they do to the material world. Eternity has no boundaries, heaven has no suffering, sickness or death, life does not decay but remains eternal, and the light is emanated directly by God, not by a material object:
And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. – Revelation 22:5, RSV.
If sin caused humanity to fall into time and space and become subject to corruption and death along with the rest of Creation, we have no natural means of measuring the historicity of this event. Something outside of space-time entered into time, and this Earth was warped by massive dislocations and incredible natural forces. Things went from naturally living forever to naturally dying. The Creation ‘was subjected’ to decay. A global flood or an asteroid impact is nothing by comparison to an event which changed the whole fabric of the entire Universe. Now how would you describe that scientifically? Perhaps that is why the writers were inspired to speak poetically and theologically and leave the rest to be answered by God himself.
* Dr. William Wharton, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF PHYSICS at Wheaton College, a Christian college, has a degree from the University of Washington, Ph.D. in Experimental Nuclear Physics. His papers on Quantum Mechanics, time, and causality are no longer available on the school’s website.