Sunday, January 02, 2011

Across the Spectrum: Chapter 4 - The Genesis Debate

This post continues the discussion from this post and this one.

Chapter 4: The Genesis Debate
Position 1: Created in the recent past (young earth)
Position 2: A very old work of art (day-age view)
Position 3: Restoring a destroyed creation (restoration view)
Position 4: Literary theme over literal chronology (literary framework view)

And so we come to the creation vs evolution debate. Except that we don't really. Here we have four different views of creation, some of which are incompatible with both the theory of evolution and the evidence of geology, while others attempt to accommodate modern scientific thinking in some way or another.

Of course, if you were to take the bible as your only source of truth in this matter, it is highly unlikely that you would arrive at any position other than the young earth view. At face value, the first chapter of Genesis looks like it is trying to be an accurate presentation of what actually happened. So positions 2, 3 and 4 are, in some sense, already compromises. And yet the young earth view requires its adherents to deny modern scientific thinking and evidence. What I find fascinating about this is that the young earth creationist view essentially sees the physical world as something that God created directly, without any possible human tinkering, and sees the bible as something God created directly, using fallible humans to write it, and yet they take the evidence of the one that would have been possible to corrupt over the evidence of the one that would be impossible to corrupt or fake. Whichever way you slice it, the geological record contains more than 10,000 years of history.

But what of the other three positions? Well, the day-age view - which is probably the most common view among evangelicals and most other theists for that matter - says that the first chapter of Genesis uses a poetic framework to describe the various ages of creation in terms of days. All well and good and I don't really have much comment to make. Except that if you take this chapter as non-literal, how do you decide which other (apparently literal) bits of the bible are also non-literal?

The Restoration view fascinated me. I actually hadn't come across the 'gap' theory before reading this, but I like it. It is an imaginative and consistent way of reconciling the apparent age of the earth and the geological record with a literal 6 day creation. Basically, the theory is that there is a giant gap (of several hundred million years) between Genesis 1v1 and Genesis 1v2. The 6 day creation described in Genesis 1 is not the first creation, but rather a re-creation of the earth out of the destroyed chaos of the previous creation. Which may also have been made out of the destroyed remains of a previous creation, and so on. Thus, when we dig up dinosaur bones, these are from previous - otherwise completely destroyed - creations. The theory goes that God created something, it went wrong, he destroyed it and started again. Repeat as necessary. Luckily for us, we live in a creation that God has chosen not to destroy completely (see the Flood story) and has, instead, provided a salvation and redemption path for us. Lucky us, unlucky dinosaurs.

The problem with this is that it doesn't quite fit with current scientific knowledge, or with current theology. Science tells us that we (and all other contemporary animals) are decended from the ancient ones. We can track the divergence of genes etc. by comparing our DNA with that recovered from ancient fossils. In other words, there is a continuity path between the allegedly completely destroyed creation and us. It couldn't have been completely destroyed. Genetic material survived, and survived in such a way as to suggest that there was no total destruction which the gap theory needs. Also, we believe God to be the kind of God who seeks to redeem and restore his creation, not destroy it and start again. So all in all, this is a good effort, but ultimately an unsatisfying theory.

Finally, the literary framework position suggests that the author of Genesis 1 had other points to make than what actually happened. Its all about God and not all about creation, it would seem. While, for the most part, I agree with this, it does seem to be dodging the issue a bit.

So, after all this, what do I think? I don't know.

I mean, I really don't know. I am happy to accept scientific thinking on this and accept the scientific picture of how this earth came to be. Science, of course, still can't explain the origin of life, but aside from that the explanations are OK. But where does God fit into this picture? Is he a deist God who starts the whole ball rolling then stands back and watches the whole thing unravel? Is he a tinkering God who continually adjusts and tweaks his creation as it continues? Is he (somewhat controversially) a part of this 'creation' rather than being the creator? I do not know. I have no good evidence to hold to any of these positions, or any of the countless others I haven't presented. But I'm happy to be agnostic on this issue. It doesn't really matter one way or the other, does it?

Surely the present and the future are more important than the distant past?

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