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evolution discussion on rhema

I was pleased to be asked along with Dr. Graeme Finlay (Senior Lecturer in the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre & Molecular Medicine & Pathology in the School of Medical Sciences at Auckland University) to take part in a talk-back show on Evolution and Christianity today.  I had to laugh when Graeme and the host Pat called me a theologian; last I checked, a lowly undergraduate degree in theology doth not maketh one a theologian :) The audio is here for any interested in our conversation.

7 replies on “evolution discussion on rhema”

Hi Dale, I find it concerning that believing in millions of years etc is becoming popular in Christianity. As believers we believe in the virgin birth because the Bible says it is so. Science says it is impossible but yet we still believe it. As believers we also believe in all the miracles that Jesus and his disciples performed. Science says they are impossible yet we believe because the Bible says it is so. As believers, we believe in the afterlife (good or bad depending on the relationship with Christ). Science says that no such things exists yet we believe because the Bible says so. Why now do we feel that we have to not believe in the Biblical account of creation (ie a plain reading which says God created in 6 literal, 24-hour days) because science says that cannot be?

Understanding the fall, the need for redemption and the Good News of our Lord only makes sense (especially in light of comments by Christ and other NT authors) if the creation was real and actual to how it is read in the Bible and that the world is essentially young as opposed to millions of years.

Hi Nick and welcome to the blog,
We’re obviously coming from different places. A few thoughts for you to chew over.
First, science as science is not opposed to anything miraculous, it’s just that one off miraculous things such as the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, etc. are hardly the ‘repeatable phenomena’ that science (well, empirical/evidential/experiment-based science) is limited to. So science as science actually doesn’t need to say anything (miracles, afterlife, etc.) is impossible. It just gets on studying what it can measure, observe and test. It just shrugs its shoulders. It’s only because of God creating us that we can do science anyway.

When you get to ‘the Bible says so’, I need to remind you that of course the Bible says a lot of things – including things that we don’t interpret literally. And by the way, if something is non-literal, it doesn’t mean that it means nothing. When I say “it’s raining cats and dogs”, I’m using a metaphor, but I really do mean it’s raining hard. When biblical writers use imagery or literary patterns/forms to get their message across, it doesn’t mean that they are wasting words! Genesis 1, for example, IF it is NOT intended to be read as a play-by-play report on “how it exactly happened” (and I see every reason that this is the case), then it is still saying something to us! Namely that God is the only creator, and that God’s work and word brings the world from being ‘tohu’ (formless) and ‘vohu’ (empty) to being ordered and filled, and that humans are given the unique role of being God’s image-bearers to wisely/lovingly rule creation.

Also, creation is “real and actual” however long ago it began. And God is still the creator, sustaining all things.

And as for the fall, ALL humans in ALL places and at ALL times have sinned and ‘fallen short’ of the glory of God, and ALL need to be redeemed by God’s grace in Christ, no matter how old the earth is, or how much time passed before the first humans. And creation itself will also participate in the redemption that is coming. (Romans 8)

Hi Dale. Thanks for your reply.

I agree that science is incapable of commenting etc on miracles. By their nature, they are impossible based on normal laws and as such will not fit in any scientific modelling. But I would argue the same of creation. There was nothing and then there was something. It was miraculous and scientifically impossible.

I think that the Bible becomes a bit tricky when you start saying a long time has elapsed before Adam and Eve. If, as science attempts to say, fossils are actually millions of years old (I think this is highly doubtful) and people of been around only for hundreds of thousands of years, then that would suggest that death etc has been around before people. The Bible teaches that death and the curse were as a result of sin – of Adam and Eve. Mark 10:6 seems to imply that near the beginning of creation, Adam and Eve were created (as opposed to near the end if billions of years had already taken place).

If death and suffering occurred before the fall of Adam and Eve, what caused that? How would god say that creation was “good” or “very good” when things were dying etc? (based on the assumption one may take that each day represents large periods of time).

Now, I have heard many people say that Genesis is not completely literal (specifically Gen 1-11 and extra specifically 1-2). Genesis 12 seems to provide some continuance through from chapter 11 – the Hebrew word, “wayomer”, translates as “And/Now he said” which is found in translations such as the ESV, NASB, KJV/NKJV. Another thing is that chapters 11 and 12 both mention Abraham (or Abram at that point). There is approx 25 citings from NT authors to the first 11 chapters in Genesis.

The point being is that we seem to treat the balance of Genesis as historical narrative and thus accept what it says as a historical record of actual events etc. Yet the first few chapters we add a split which is not there and suggest that while it indicates stuff that happened, we can not take what is says as necessarily specific as to how it occurred – ie in 24 literal days.

Thanks again for the chance to chat about this.


Thanks Nick,
I appreciate your willingness to engage respectfully on this, and I sense that you’re not the kind of guy who makes this a ‘make or break’ issue (i.e. you must believe in a 6,000 yr old earth to be a ‘real’ Christian!). FYI, I used to argue passionately for a young earth and against evolution being possible. I now have changed tack, not only because I see evolution and deep time as making a lot more scientific sense as I used to, but I also see it as a complete non-essential matter, and that one can be a ‘theistic evolutionist’ and still take Scripture very seriously and retain all key doctrines of the faith (i.e. creation, sin, atonement, imago dei, etc.).

God could have created us 5 seconds ago, with memories of past events more than 5 seconds ago, etc. But this would risk making God look a bit deceptive? Someone once (wisely) said that the ‘books’ of scripture and nature will yield harmonious accounts when interpreted correctly. Interpreting the universe, it ‘looks’ very very old, unless god created light ‘on its way’ from very, very distant stars, etc., etc. For me, however old, big and great the creation is, the creator is ‘older’, ‘bigger’ and greater (‘older’ and ‘bigger’ in quotes as God is not a ‘thing’ that has an ‘age’ and ‘size’, but is eternal and transcendent!). So deep time just makes God even more worthy of the title ‘the Ancient of Days’, etc. :)

You raise some specific questions:
In Romans 5, the focus is on human death from human sin, so the animal death before human sin poses no problem as far as any theological point Paul is making. He is communicating a theological contrast between a) humanity ‘in Adam’ (i.e. under the self-actualised sentence of the law of sin and death) and b) the NEW humanity ‘in Christ’ (i.e. those undergoing the freely-given redemption of Grace and Life). Every human that ever lived ‘fell short’ of God’s ideal (the perfect human – Jesus), and so needs that grace-enabled redemption to a) deal with their sin, and b) raise them to life in Christ.

As for a ‘good’ and even ‘very good’ creation even with death, a few observations.
Even on a literal reading of Genesis 1-3, there was imperfection and evil before the fall. Creation was not made ‘perfect’ but ‘good’ (big difference there). The earth’s initial state was “tohu va vohu” (formless and void – or chaotic and empty). And ‘days’ 1-3 portray God forming what was formless (i.e. the repeated use of the word ‘separated’); and ‘days’ 4-6 portray God filling what was empty. So earth was ‘undeveloped’ (not evil), but still good. Also, you have an evil, deceptive serpent in this ‘good’ garden!! :) ((interestingly, ppl have speculated about a possible connection with the headpiece of Pharaoh and the serpent!? it actually supports Mosaic authorship of Genesis…)) So, even before human sin, you have spiritual evil that is active. With the arrival of humanity, made to Image God into creation, Evil finds new powerful agents to overtake and tempt. ((quick tangent – Paul says that the Law of Moses only increased the reign of evil/sin/death!)) So with the arrival (and immediate fall!) of humans, you have a new kind of death and failure that evil is able to bring that is truly a cursed state of affairs. ((some speak of creation anticipating in-advance the eventual arrival and fall of humans – similar to how creation now groans as it awaits redemption – i.e. Romans 8))

As for where the line is between a-historical narratives (i.e. eden) and historical ones, different people who are all good Jesus-loving, Bible-respecting folk, understand it differently. I tend to draw it at Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, ‘the parents of monotheism’, as they’ve been called. But I respect others with differing views. I fully take the point about a split which is seemingly not there. There are no footnotes that say “oh, and now it’s ‘real’ history from here…” :) But they did not make the kind of distinctions between story and history that we do. For the original author, Genesis is a true telling of the beginning of all things, humanity and God’s people. It’s the intro-story to the rest of the story of Scripture. And whilst they would have had no reason to suspect a biological ancestry for humans, they would have been aware of what we rightly recognise as ‘metaphor’ in these origin stories (i.e. talking snake, ‘knowledge’ growing on trees, etc.).

Hope some of these thoughts help your on-going pursuit of truth (including distinguishing between essential truths and non-essential ones).

Dale Campbell: ((interestingly, ppl have speculated about a possible connection with the headpiece of Pharaoh and the serpent!? it actually supports Mosaic authorship of Genesis…))

You don’t support Mosaic authorship though, right Dale…?

Dale Campbell: I tend to draw it at Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah, ‘the parents of monotheism’, as they’ve been called.

What do you think of the biblical scholars who assert that there is nothing in the Genesis stories that can be related to the history of Canaan of the early 2nd millennium. None of the kings mentioned are known, Abimelech could not have been a Philistine (they did not arrive until centuries later), Ur would not become known as “Ur of the Chaldeans” until the early 1st millennium, and Laban could not have been an Aramean, as the Arameans did not become an identifiable political entity until the 12th century.

Joseph Blenkinsopp, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame has asserted that the narrative of Abraham originated from literary circles of the 6th and 5th centuries BCE as a mirror of the situation facing the Jewish community under the Babylonian and early Persian empires.,+the+first+phase:+the+place+of+Ezra+and+Nehemiah&source=bl&ots=LBvGbmdYft&sig=G6O6KoUiTSyeYOppa7HS4bH_r0k&hl=en&ei=jbAcTJCHHcmDcJDL1K8N&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Zion%20theology&f=false

Blenkinsopp describes two conclusions about Abraham that are widely held in biblical scholarship: the first is that, except in the triad “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” he is not clearly and unambiguously attested in the Bible earlier than the Babylonian exile; the second is that he became, in the Persian period, a model for those who would return from Babylon to Judah. Beyond this the Abraham story (and those of Isaac and Jacob/Israel) served a theological purpose following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Davidic kingship: despite the loss of these things, Yahweh’s dealings with the ancestors provided a historical foundation on which hope for the future could be built.,+%22Israel+in+exile%22&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=HtlsTK7mFpO8sAPKzYmgCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

There is basic agreement that his connection with Haran, Shechem and Bethel is secondary and originated when he became identified as the father of Jacob and ancestor of the northern tribes; his association with Mamre and Hebron, on the other hand (in the south, in the territory of Jerusalem and Judah), suggest that this region was the original home of his religion.

Hi Ryan,
Put as simply as possible, the denial of the historicity of Abraham is largely if not entirely an argument from silence. We’re restricted by the extent of a) what artifacts have survived, and b) what we’ve found of what has survived. Presently, we’ve only the absence of hard evidence ‘for’, not the presence of hard evidence ‘against’. But even the potentially hard evidence ‘for’ a historical Abram can be written off easily (too easily?) I.e. we know Abram was a personal name from the proposed time of Abram and that Ur was a place name, but this does not ‘prove’ hard and fast that the biblical Abram and Ur were historical, as they names could have possibly been used in stories (i.e. Batman and Gotham City). Certainly the Abraham stories functioned in the ways Blenkinsopp describes whether he was historical or not. I’m actually quite flexible with all this. I’m happy with even some pre Genesis-11 stuff being historical, and I also can cope if it ends up being written for more theological than historical purposes (and certainly it’s not either/or there). I DO think it’s far too easy and convenient for the minimalists to write off Abraham, David and Solomon and Daniel from real history so that the entire OT is historically baseless. Just as it’s too easy and convenient to assume that ‘coz it’s written on this page of the Bible’ therefore it must have happened literally as described. Extremes in both directions. Again I’m quite flexible.

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