Monday, October 19, 2009

Evolution's Impact on Theology

AVI is doing a series of posts about Evolution and Young Earth Creationism that's really good. It grew out of a post about Creationism, Evolution and Politics.

While I enjoy his postulations about how the creation story in Genesis might reflect certain aspects of the development of humanity, I can't help but feel as if it's missing the point when it comes to the interplay between Evolution and Creationism and the theological implications of the two.

What we make of Genesis might be a good window into how we see the relationship between God and man, the Divine and the earthly.

Creationism is rooted in the idea that the story in Genesis is revelation from God. Some people take the story as literally as possible, believing in six, 24-hour days of creative work by God. Some see it as a general sketch of the creation of the universe by God and the explanation of humanity's spiritual state, drawn in broad strokes. These two camps of Creationism really only differ in their sense of time. Both generally believe in a literal, historic Adam and Eve.

Many Christians have made peace with the idea of evolution, seeing it as an explanation of how God created humanity without feeling that it intrudes on the why of God's creation. That's a reasonable approach and one to which I would be willing to grant approval and assent. However, if we truly go down the path of accepting evolution as the "true" explanation of life on this planet, even if we are simply accepting it as a God-driven mechanism, there are widespread implications for our Christian theology.

One simple and relatively minor example....God's directive to keep the Sabbath holy is directly tied the Genesis 1 view of creation:

Exodus 20:8-11

8 "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

What would the Jewish religion look like without the concept of Sabbath, a concept which was not only a weekly cycle, but which also appeared in the agricultural system and the idea of having a Sabbath year in which no one planted crops, leaving the ground fallow, resting until the next cycle of 6 years of productive work. The Sabbath dominated many of the ceremonies and rituals of Judaism, with special offerings made on Sabbaths. Even the story of the Israelites receiving manna from heaven has a reference to the Sabbath, with twice as much manna appearing on the day before the Sabbath because none would appear on the day of the Sabbath.

Here lies the heart of the conflict between christian evolution and creationism: What does evolution mean for the ideas which have served as the foundations of our religion? If the idea of a literal, six day creation is cast aside, large sections of the Old Testament become almost meaningless. Perhaps, that's overstating it...but, to be sure, it uproots any sense that the idea of a "Sabbath" as a reflection of creation is based on reality.

There are ways around this, theologically speaking. One could propose that the Sabbath-oriented Scriptures are God's concessions to working with beliefs which were already established within the Jewish community. An explanation in that form is only partially satisfying because it leaves us with communications from God which aren't based in reality, but which are based in God's willingness to use whatever means available to communicate "truth" to humans.

So....he didn't exactly create the world in six days....but the Israelites thought He what's the harm? That's not a very comforting picture of God, as far as believing in a God who always speaks the "truth".

Another explanation can only be reached from a modern, Christian perspective; that of the progressive revelation of Scripture. The newer, Christ-inspired Scriptures of the New Testament outweigh and supersede the Old Testament directives.

Conservative, evangelical Christians are wishy-washy with this approach, usually using it when it suits them and they don't want to address the violence in the Old Testament, but also wanting to desperately cling to the parts of the Old Testament they like. Inspirational stories of biblical characters beating the odds with God on their side...."YES, we'll take those!" Violent stories of genocide and commands to stone adulterers, homosexuals, non-parent-honoring children and Sabbath-breakers..."NO, not so much!"

Honestly, I don't have a problem with that approach, except for the fact that most evangelicals won't own up to what they're doing. Instead of saying,"We don't believe X is truly representative of God's nature and his will for humanity, so we reject it as an imperfect, wrong approach to God," they will inevitably find a way to co-opt the violent texts and make them mean something that they really don't, or simply avoid them.

Anyone been to a great Bible study on Leviticus, lately?

My first example I mistakenly labeled as a minor problem. As a Christian in the 21st century it does seem minor to me because my worship of God is not tied to the rituals established in the Old Testament. To a Jewish person worshipping at the Temple 3,000 years ago, it would have been a major problem.

Christianity does not get off scot-free from evolution's impact. While the Sabbath directives have generally been loosened up to the point of non-existence, most of what we call "Christian" theology has Genesistic (I know that's not a word) themes running through it.

The theory of original sin is tied to Genesis. The division of roles for men and women as described in the New Testament have their roots in Genesis. Even the Christology of Jesus and his resurrection is tied into Genesis, with comparisons to Adam being made to explain Jesus' significance.

Adam of Genesis is the first Adam, Jesus is the last Adam. Luke's genealogy lists Adam as a son of God, presumably uniquely created, right after establishing Jesus' virgin birth and unique creation and the story of the voice from heaven declaring Jesus as God's son, after Jesus' baptism.

Paul, especially, goes into great lengths describing how sin and death came through the first Adam, and life is coming from the last Adam:

1 Corinthians 15:21-22

21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Essentially, our understanding of Jesus' coming and his resurrection are based on the Genesis stories.

I sound like a YEC advocate, which I'm not.

Yet...I understand the YEC movement and their fear and protestations to evolution. It isn't science which they are protesting; it's the loss of an entire paradigm of understanding God, Humanity, how those two relate, and what it means to be a Christian.

I'll offer more opinions on that later. This post is already quite long.


Retriever said...

Thanks for this very good post, Terri. Between you and Avi's writing on this recently, my mind is cranking back into gear...tho nothing intelligent to add as yet to the two of your thoughts on this.

Your remarks on Sabbath and other Genesis derived rules and themes in the life of Jews and Christians especially rich.

On a totally different note, my daughter and I were on a marathon drive south to visit an aunt who had had a heart attack (better now), and saw this giganto Madonna (30 feet? 20?) outside an RC church off to the side of some highway. I exclaimed: The Goddess Appropriated. With no disrespect intended to friends of mine who are devout Catholics, my first impression was that it reminded me of a pagan deity. And I have been mulling a lot over pagan elements in the Christian church lately...tho not yet jelled.

But back to Evolution and theology: I've always found myself approaching both from the standpoint that however perfect and final a self-revelation of Himself made in Jesus, we humanoids are still so imperfect and stupid that we cannot yet understand either the nature of the God who saves us, or the history or our own world. Both evolution and our present theology are partial, incomplete theories. The products of fallible albeit sincere and dedicated people. So if they are internally inconsistent or "fight" with each other, it doesn't mean that either evolution or theology ought to defeat the other. It just means that both are incomplete attempts to understand the same reality. Each contributes to the other. I Cor !3's "For now we see thru a mirror darkly, but then face to face, etc."

terri said...

Thank you for your kind words!

Sometimes I feel like my blogging is just stating the obvious and I can always find people who say the same thing better than me!

MInTheGap said...

I really liked reading your thoughts on the issue-- you had a very well thought out post.

I think there are more problems with trying to integrate the Genesis account with Evolution than simply the Sabbath however. The order in which things were stated to have been created in Genesis would have made no sense if not in a short span-- for example, the creation of plants before the Sun and Moon.

The problem is that the story in Genesis and the story of Evolutionism are stories at odds with each other. I differentiate here between Evolution and Evolutionism. I have no problem with believing in natural selection, but I do have a problem with natural selection over time producing something new-- something that's never been proven.

But like I said-- good analysis on why it presents trouble, and I hadn't looked into the Sabbath argument before.

James Pate said...

I don't have much light to shed on the Sabbath issue, but what you say about conservative Christians and the OT reminds me of something I saw on Facebook. I have a lot of conservative Christian friends there, and one of them posted a video called "Obama mocks the Word of God." It showed a 2006 speech by Obama, in which he made the same points he made in his speech about religion in 2008: the Bible has slavery, stoning a child who leaves the faith, non-resistance to evil. The narrator said that Obama took that stuff "grossly out of context." I find that to be something many conservative Christians like to toss out. "You're taking the Bible out of context." I wonder how they put something like, say, slavery IN context!

Granted, many do, but I just find the "he takes it out of context" line to be a way some conservatives try to close discussion rather than opening it.