Thursday, October 22, 2009

Salvaging Genesis

So, what to make of Genesis? If one wants to accept evolution, what does it mean for a coherent view of Genesis? How do we teach it? What theology do we form from it? What do we tell our kids about it?

Those are the nuts and bolts that the average Christian is struggling with in the middle of the evolution/creationism debate.

What does it all mean?

If we view Genesis as the best explanation offered to us by people who sought to explain God, Humanity, and their relationship to each other...there is still much value to be found in Genesis.

If we view Genesis as historical fact given to Moses in a vision, or in a direct, fireside chat with God....then it's hard not to be a YEC-er.

The outcome is determined by what we believe Scripture is and what its purpose is. I won't trot out the whole inerrancy argument, because I've already given my opinion pretty extensively on that subject in the past.

In the past, I used to read Genesis 1 and think,"Wow...that's really close to the concepts of the Big Bang and evolution." God creates the earth and heavens out of a primordial mess. He commands the water, earth and sky to be formed. He commands the land to produce vegetation...and it does. He commands the waters and land to produce living creatures....and they do. The last thing created and made is man....the most advanced creature produced by the evolutionary process.

It's not hard to draw parallels between the creation story and evolution. In fact, compared to other creation stories, Genesis 1 seems downright scientific; that is until you realize that Day 3 has the land being covered with vegetation before the sun is formed on Day 4. That throws a wrench into any idea that Genesis 1 is an inspired revelation of evolution taking place.

No sun=no plants.

If we place ourselves in the sandals of the ancients thousands of years ago, observing the world, nature, and life...we just might be able to understand Genesis a little better.

Think about the descriptions offered in Genesis 1. Distinctions are made between water, earth and sky. Those are pretty basic, observable categories. Most animals fall into one of those categories...except for maybe amphibians which could be water or earth creatures. Distinctions are made about plants and animals reproducing according to their own kind. What person has ever planted a peach pit and grown a pine tree? What cow has ever given birth to a sheep?

These are observable demarcations, even to the ancients, that are being put into use to explain the order of the cosmos. I would go so far as to say that the descriptions are "scientific" in their attempt to take what was observable and form a theory of creation from it. It's no coincidence that livestock aren't created until the land is covered with vegetation. What would they have eaten? Wild animals aren't created until there are birds and fish to munch on.

And the end of the creation narrative...we have man's creation. Man is made to rule over the other animals. He is said to be made in the image of God. He is created male and female.

This is more general observation. Humans sense that they have something which other animals don't. They see that they have the power to shape and control nature and animals. They see that they are wholly "other" throughout the earth; somehow better, somehow more powerful.

This is what being made in the "image of God" is about.

Genesis 1 is "true"...without necessarily being "factual".

more later.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

CS Lewis addicts are familiar and comfortable with the idea of "myth" meaning something other than "lies." The word myth has weakened in meaning over time, so that the modern hearer is unable to hear the meanings that were common even a century ago.

Paul Pavao said...

It's always difficult to address the issue of Genesis and evolution.

This post of yours is particularly well-done. Congratulations. I don't think I've ever been able to say it as well, and I'm forced to attempt it a lot.

MInTheGap said...

There is another possible explanation for the origin of Genesis 1-- the idea that there were documents available at the time of the writing/editing of Genesis that aren't available now. I believe that they've been able to find evidence of writing dated to the time of Abraham. Simply because we do not have any remaining work from the time period doesn't mean that Moses/Abraham didn't have access to documents that could be put together as an actual record of what happened instead of the "Moses got it by a vision."

I'm not saying that I know this is the way that it was done, but I find the idea interesting, and consistent. Check out to see what I've read in the past.

Has this been refuted?

Most of the time we take evolutionary concepts (Man was primitive and evolved communication, so they didn't know how to write) and apply that to the Bible, but the Biblical worldview is reversed-- people getting worse not better. Let alone the fact that many ancient constructions and literature are of much better quality than of today.

What do you think?

terri said...


I'm not sure about "documents". I don't think most cultures at that time had "paper". The Egyptians had papyrus....bust most other writing was done in stone, or on clay tablet.

And the earliest writing was done by pictogram. If a person were to "read" a tablet with could imagine the variation. The main pictures would convey an idea that would have to be put into words. That leaves a lot of room for differing details, tone, and interpretation.

Think of how difficult we find it to interpret writings in our own language sometimes.

Most of the time we take evolutionary concepts (Man was primitive and evolved communication, so they didn't know how to write) and apply that to the Bible, but the Biblical worldview is reversed-- people getting worse not better. Let alone the fact that many ancient constructions and literature are of much better quality than of today.

I think you are combining two very different ideas.

People learning new things, becoming more educated, making incredible discoveries....those things don't make people "better". It may make them smarter....but that has little bearing on their goodness.

I think it's possible to think that man has progressed intellectually, while still struggling spiritually.

I know that I've read some YEC-ers who claim that Adam was smarter, faster, and stronger than modern humans. That somehow "The Fall" didn't just make us sinful.....but it made us stupid.

I can't agree with that. I also don't think that there's a shred of that kind of idea in Scripture.

If that's what you're referring to...then I reject it.

As far as architecture and literature being better in the past.....I would say that only the truly great things have lasted this long. I imagine there was a lot of second rate art, poetry, buildings etc.....that never survived.

People preserve the truly marvelous things and let decay take the rest. In light of the conversation about Genesis I would say that it happens to be one of those "truly marvelous" things that has been preserved.

MInTheGap said...


The earliest writing that we've found may be pictogram. What I'm trying to present is that we are making judgments about a time period that we have little left from it, and then concluding it to be true.

I'm just saying that we should be open to the possibility that there were writings that were before Abraham that may have been available to Moses that would definitely increase the value of the documents.

It's one thing to say "Moses chatted with God" or "Moses compiled the Creation Myths that were around" but to say that Moses might have writings from pre-flood times... That at least made me read the article I liked to. I'm not sure I totally accept it, but it was interesting.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to have the comparison "worse" and "better" in terms of behavior, morals, etc. I meant that engineering feats, etc. have atrophied over time rather improving. There are some structures that are build in ancient times that you cannot place a piece of paper between bricks, and that we wouldn't even be able to build with modern machinery. The discoveries of things like Stone Henge, etc. that show much more understanding of their surroundings than we have today. I also would add that even in our politics we have yet to come up with anything new-- most of it retreads from the Greeks and Russia.

We have more education, and more proliferation of material, but we don't have more knowledge. It was said that, at one point, people believed they could build a tower to the Heavens, and God came down to confuse their languages.

I agree that great works from each generation are saved, and certainly there could have been things from each generation considered sub-par.

All I was trying to say is that we tend to look diminutively on those ancients when in reality they may have been superior.