Friday, 10 January 2014

Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 1


I’m aware of some confusion among both special creationists and non-theists about exactly what evolutionary creationism means. In my experience, both theist and non-theist make the mistake of thinking ECs believe that the creation narratives either explicitly refer to evolution as the mechanism of creation, or can be harmonised with an evolutionary natural history. This is wrong. You will find no reference to evolution anywhere in the creation narratives. However, you will find no unambiguous reference to heliocentrism, a spherical Earth or any other aspect of the modern world for the simple reason that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, not modern science, and serves both as a polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation mythology, a well as an account of functional origins (order from chaos) as opposed to material origins.

Literalism and Strong Concordism are both flawed exegetical options

Critics of EC make the mistake of thinking that the only exegetical options open for the creation narratives are literalism or strong concordism. Literalists take the creation narratives literally (though not as literally as they think) and insist that a recent creation in six days is what the text teaches. Strong concordists are willing to recognise that the Earth is ancient, but still think that the days of creation refer to sequential creation events which can be harmonised with geology. The classic strong concordist views are the Gap Theory, which posits a global catastrophe between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2, followed by six days of re-creation, and the day-age theory which claims that the days are not 24 hour days but unspecified time periods.

Both literalism and strong concordism are untenable. Literalism is readily falsified by the fact that the Earth is ancient, and life has been on this planet for at least 3800 million years. The Gap Theory is falsified because there is no geological evidence of a global ruin such as the theory demands. The Day-Age theory likewise is falsified because the order of creation events in Gen 1 does not correspond with natural history. For example, Genesis 1 teaches that birds were created before mammals, but the fossil record tells us that mammals appeared around 200 million years ago[1], well before feathered dinosaurs (which preceded birds) appearing around 160 million years ago[2]. Furthermore, it stretches credulity to imagine that plants dependent on pollination survived untold ages before the animals that pollinated them were created. From a scientific point of view, both literalism and strong concordism have been falsified. Evangelical geologist Davis Young, in his survey of the history of Christian approaches to geology declares:

The inability of literalism to provide a satisfactory agreement between the biblical text and geological knowledge can be seen on two counts. In the first place, modern literalistic interpretations of the creation and flood texts yield results that are wildly at variance with geological knowledge. In the second place the wide variation of interpretation demonstrates that we have not yet discovered the proper understanding of “scientifically relevant” biblical texts. Literalism, after 300 years, has failed and no longer provides a fruitful approach for achieving the appropriate biblical view of geology.

Concordism has been unable to provide a satisfactory agreement between the biblical text and geological knowledge. Concordistic efforts have never been able to do justice to the fourth day of creation and to the relative positioning of the third and fifth days of creation in relationship to geological knowledge. On the other hand the variation of suggestions further demonstrates that concordism has not helped us to understand “scientifically relevant” biblical texts any more than has literalism. Concordism, after 250 years, has also failed and no longer may be assumed to provide a fruitful approach for achieving an appropriate biblical view of geology.[3]

The scientific problems alone decisively refute literalism and strong concordism, but ultimately, both views cannot be reconciled with what the narratives actually state. Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with Genesis 2 if both are read as literal, consecutive accounts of creation. Genesis 1 teaches creation in six days and refers to the creation of male and female humans together, while Genesis 2 refers to creation in one day and places the creation of man before woman. As OT scholar Peter Enns notes:

These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there. The differences between the two creation accounts are further complemented by differences seen in other Old Testament passages such as Psalms 77:16–20; 89:5–37; Job 9:4–15; 26:5–14; 38:4–38; and Isaiah 40:12–31; 44:24–28. It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation.[4]

[1] K. A. Kermack, Frances Mussett, and H. W. Rigney, "The skull of Morganucodon", Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, (1981) 71:1-158.
[2] Xu, X.; Zhao, Q.; Norell, M.; Sullivan, C.; Hone, D.; Erickson, G.; Wang, X.; Han, F. & Guo, Y. "A new feathered maniraptoran dinosaur fossil that fills a morphological gap in avian origin". Chinese Science Bulletin (2009) 54: 430–435
[3] Young DA “Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part 2)” Westminster Theological Journal 49:291–292.
[4] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 52.