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Within the Christian theological paradigm theologians debate whether the depiction of Creation in Ge 1-2 excludes the scientific theory of evolution or not.  Some say Ge 1-2 rules out any kind of consideration of evolution or any kind of great ages of the earth, that Ge 1-2 rules out that the earth is billions of years old and so forth.

However, the majority of theologians and others within the Christian theological paradigm would say, “No, those are not in conflict at all.”  In fact, Ge 1-2 are all about the “who” and the “what” of creation.  The majority within the Christian theological paradigm understand God is the creator and that is perfectly compatible with an understanding of evolution and of ages of the earth as long as that is understood within this concept of creational monotheism.  Further, we have a latitude of views within the Christian theological paradigm on that question.

So what is the precise relationship of Ge 1-2 to the scientific theory of evolution?

 

the relationship of Genesis and Scientific Discovery and Investigation: 

the compatibilist v. the incompatibilist

 

So far we’ve been dealing with the theology of Creation, about the key things that the biblical text asserts – this Creation out of nothing by this one, good, transcendent Creator God.  We’ve seen this big difference that exists between those who approach Scripture from a Christian theological paradigm perspective and that of a post-Enlightenment paradigm perspective.  We’ve seen that the post-Enlightenment types reject classical theism (creational monotheism) and instead opt for panentheism such as is found in process theology.

Still, within the Christian theological paradigm itself we should not assume that there is but one view of how the book of Ge relates to scientific investigation.  The precise relationship of Ge 1-2 to the scientific theory of evolution is an open question being debated.

 

So the question is, “Is Ge compatible or incompatible with modern science and scientific theories of evolution?”

The theology underlying Ge focuses on the Creator God and the good Creation that he’s brought into existence.  What about scientific discovery especially as it pertains to the scientific theory of large scale evolution and the scientific theory of vast ages of the earth that most scientists would argue is a proven fact?  Theologically, how is this related to Ge?

 

On a first reading of GeGe 1-2 and it’s description of our origins and the origin of all things might seem to frontally conflict with scientific theories of evolution and the great age of the earth.  So how do theologians approach these questions?  Does the theology in the Bible preclude evolutionary theory or not preclude it? 

 

First, when interpreting scripture there are in theology two main paradigms out of which theologians operate:  the Christian theological paradigm and the post-Enlightenment paradigm.

 

 Briefly, the Christian theological paradigm begins with a precommitment to the teaching of Christ through his apostles.  You come to the table already with a pre-commitment to Christian faith, a pre-commitment focused on Jesus of Nazareth and his teaching which comes to all through his apostles.  Within the Christian theological paradigm it’s within this Christian context and on that basis that one approaches and does exegesis of scripture.

 

 Within the post-Enlightenment paradigm you begin not with a pre-commitment to Jesus and his teachings through his apostles but with a precommitment to an ideological or theological starting point which is drawn from somewhere outside Scripture, points which differ so much in that they are all over the map.  These include:  process theology, feminist theology, historicism, liberation theology, queer theology, post-colonial theology, etc.  They do this because these people have a different view of the relationship of the Bible and reason from that of the Christian theological paradigm.  To post-Enlightenment paradigm people scripture is a flawed book containing contradictory teachings.

 

the compatibilist vs. incompatibilist approaches

 

Further, within the Christian theological paradigm the question of the relationship of Ge to modern scientific theories of evolution is an open question but of which there are two main views.

  1. the incompatibilistapproach and
  2. the compatibilist approach.

Both approaches have an equally high view of scripture.

 

The incompatibilist understands Ge 1-2 to be describing, in no uncertain terms, an instantaneous creation, not a Creation that took place over long ages through an evolutionary process God used.  This instantaneous creation is sometimes called “special creation.”

To the incompatibilist the Ge account and scientific theories of evolution – theories of a long age of the earth – billions of years – are not compatible; they just don’t fit with one another.  Ge 1-2 is giving the true story and questions the validity and evidence for theories of evolution and theories for the long age of the earth.  They say Ge is talking about and can only be talking about an “instantaneous creation”.  Ge 1-2 is meant to be taken literally; these are seven literal days in which God in an instantaneous way brought about a mature world with plants and animals including humans.

They are often called young earth creationists because they believe in Creation and that the biblical account demands that one believe that the world is created relatively recently.  Hence, to incompatibilists Ge 1-2 rule out evolutionary theory.  The vast ages that are required by evolution did not take place.  They reject “theistic evolution”, that God guided an evolutionary process in Creation.

 

These people, having a high view of scripture, say “We must believe what the Bible says here, and evolutionary theory is incompatible with that.”  They believe that evolutionary theory has gone wrong at some point, that the evidence is not there but has been forced.  They contend that if science is done correctly, you don’t see vast ages of the earth or large scale evolutionary process.  Instead, you have evidence for an instantaneous creation.

 

The compatibilist approach has an equally high view of scripture but takes a different position on the relationship of Ge 1-2 on evolutionary theory.  They say the conflict between the Bible and science is really mistaken and unnecessary because they understand scientific theories of evolution – including a great age of the earth – as being compatible with the teaching of the Bible in Ge 1-2.  That is, God could do things just as well slowly as quickly.  Theories of evolution are not incompatible with the Bible.  In their view Ge does not rule out a developmental creation process (evolution) in which God was the Creator.  God created through the means that scientists have looked at and said it’s an evolution.  In other words, God well could have, and science seems to indicate that he did, use this process of evolution to bring all things into existence.

 

These people say God is the Creator God but that scientific discoveries reveal to us that he created in a very different way than you might have expected, through this evolutionary process.  When compatibilists say “that God created,” they do not mean to give us scientific specifics about “how God created.”  These people believe in Creation but not in a recent Creation; hence, they are sometimes called old earth creationists.  This view is also often called “developmental Creation” meaning that God created slowly rather than quickly.  This view is also often called “theistic evolution” meaning that God guided that process, that the evolutionary process was God’s means of creating.

 

Still, this is not a belief in evolution that is an unplanned, unguided process in an atheistic, non-God universe but a process guided and governed by God.  In fact, compatibilists say that what would be incompatible with the Bible would be any viewpoint that says evolution is a process without God or that somehow you took God out of the process.  In the compatibilist view evolution guided by God is certainly compatible and does not conflict with Ge 1-2.

 

So there are two views of Ge 1.  How it doesn’t conflict with Ge in their view has to do with the two different views in which they read the days of Ge 1 – from an incompatibilist perspective or a compatibilist perspective.  See discussion below.

 

Of course, among most traditional Protestants this issue is still being debated.  Is Ge compatible or incompatible with modern science and scientific theories of evolution?  Within Catholic and Orthodox wings of Christianity where things are usually more defined because they have the teaching office of the church.  The official teaching of the church has not sided with either of these two views except to say that the compatibilist view is not incompatible with Ge.

 

areas of agreement

 

Areas of disagreement largely revolve around how much symbolic and pictorial language there is in the Ge 1-3 accounts.  Generally speaking, compatibilists say there’s a lot of symbolic and pictorial language while the incompatibilists say there’s little or none.

Of note, however, is that within all sides of the Christian theological paradigm, all are agreed upon the following three things: 

 

  1. creatioex nihilo 

 

One cannot believe, as some physicists do, in an everlasting created order that has always existed or in a series of universes that have always existed.  In other words, the universe did not create itself and the universe is not everlasting as some scientific theories claim.

 

Insteadboth compatibilists and incompatibilists believe, whether God did is fast or did it slow, that the universe came into being out of nothing at a certain point in time simply by the command and power of God.  So the “big bang” theory, which is the most common theory of cosmological origins in science within the compatibilist view would be fully compatible with Ge.  Whereas the “steady state theory” which says that the universe has always existed, as some physicists would claim, is contrary in all three branches to its teaching that God brought all things into existence out of nothing.

 

However, after everything was created by God out of nothing, the compatibilists and incompatibilists disagree as to the process that God used as noted above.

 

  1. Ge 1-3 involves a true account of real history; it offers a true account of both the origins of the universe and the origins of humanity. 

 

Ge 1-3 is not a myth but a real historical account of history.  These things really happened.  Still, we have two questions on which there is disagreement between the compatibilists and the incompatibilists regarding the way it all happened.

 

*  They disagree on how the seven day account in Ge 1-2 are to be read.   How much symbolic, non-literal, pictorial language do we have in Ge?  For instance, see the example of the serpent in Ge 3.  Was that a real serpent that Satan used to tempt the first human beings?  See notes there.

Incompatibilists say there is little or no symbolism, that this is  all meant to be taken very literally.  It was seven days for creation period!  Yes, it was a real snake!

Compatibilists say there is much within Ge that’s told symbolically, pictorially and with non-literal language.  The snake was symbolic.

 

 What are the seven days all about?

Incompatibilists take these seven days as chronological.  The six days of Creation involved an instantaneous Creation over six days and that necessarily rules out evolution.  The seven day account is to be taken as literally saying, and can only say, that God created in the course of six days.

 

Compatibilists take these seven days as topical.  The six days were not meant by the author to be taken as literally giving the chronology of Creation, the exact course in which the Creation took place.  Instead, the seven days were the framework within which the Ge author under the inspiration of God chose to present Creation to us, in which the author expresses how God brought everything into existence.  It does not mean that everything was created in the exact order of these seven days; instead, its the way the author was divinely inspired to present the account.  Hence, the compatibilist understanding is more of a topical understanding.  In fact, if we take this framework in which the Ge author beautifully and poetically described Creation and say that that precludes that God did the creative process in certain ways, we are then working against the intentions of God and the intentions of the Ge author.  Thus, compatibilists see the days as topical.

Another way of understanding the compatibilist view is to say the Creation account doesn’t say how God did this Creation; it says that God did this Creation.

 

  1. Adam and Eve were real, historical persons – the first human beings. 

 

In other words, there are two ancestors of the whole human race.  Here, within this too, we have some disagreement regarding how much symbolic language is involved in Ge 1-3.

Incompatibilists say it’s clear from Ge that Adam and Eve were immediately, instantaneously created by God and therefore that rules out theories of the evolution of humanity.  They see nothing pictorial in the Adam and Eve part of the story because that seems to be foundational for the whole concept of the fall and original sin and so on.

Compatibilists say that since Ge is told in pictorial, symbolic, non-literal language, therefore, it does not rule out that the first human beings came about as a result of an evolutionary process but once they did, they were the first full human beings, the first ones made in the image of God, and they were true historical persons.

 

All of this I’ve here summarized in chart form.

 

 

 

 

Incompatibilist

 

Compatibilist

 

Ge 1-2

 

Ge describes an instantaneous creation, not a creation that took place over long ages.

Ge is not compatible with theories of evolution .  Ge is giving the true story.  The world was created relatively recently.

Are also called “young earth”creationists.

 

Ge and theories of evolution including a great age of the earth are compatible with one another.  Ge does not  rule out a developmental creation process in which God is the creator but God does that through a process that scientists have looked at and said it’s an evolution.  These people believe in creation but not a recent creation.  Are also called “old earth”creationists.  Also called “theistic evolution.”  The creation process was guided and governed by God.

 

How much symbolic, non-literal, pictorial language do we have in Ge?

 

Incompatibilistssay there is little or none, that this is  all meant to be taken very literally.  It was seven days for creation period.  The snake was a snake!

 

Compatibilists say there is much within Ge that’s told symbolically, pictorially, non-literal language.

 

the serpent

 

Most incompatibilisttheologians would say this text about the serpent is giving us a literal account of an amazing thing that God did because of the unique situation with the first two human beings.  Satan actually used a serpent to speak through.

 

On the other hand, the compatibilist would normally say the serpent is a symbolic or pictorial element.  It isn’t that the first sin occurred through a serpent.  That’s just the chosen way the divinely inspired author chose to talk about the fall.

 

What are the seven days all about?

 

Incompatibiliststake these seven days as chronological.  The seven day creation involves an instantaneous creation over seven days thatrules out evolution.

 

 

Compatibilists take these seven days as topical.  The seven days are the framework in which the Ge author under the inspiration of God chose to present creation to us.  It does not mean that everything was created in the exact order of these seven days; it’s the way the author was divinely inspired to give the account.  So it doesn’t say how God did this creation; it says that God did this creation.

 

Adam and Eve

 

Incompatibilistssay it’s clear from Ge that Adam and Eve were immediately, instantaneously created by Godand therefore that rules out theories of the evolution of humanity.

 

Compatibilists say that since Ge is told in pictorial, symbolic, non-literal language, therefore, it does not rule out that the first human beings came about as a result of an evolutionary process but once they did,they were the first full human beings, the first ones made in the image of God, and they are true historical persons.

 

So, while there is much that incompatibilists and compatibilists disagree, they still agree on these three points above.

 

post-Enlightenment paradigm perspective 

 

Everything above is what has happened within the Christian theological paradigm.  Both compatibilists and incompatibilists exist within the Christian theological paradigm.  The general teaching among Catholic Christians is strongly in the compatibilist direction.  Many Protestant denominations have no teaching on this matter.  For those who do some are compatibilists and some are incompatibilists.  So this remains a debated point among those within the Christian theological paradigm.

 

Most post-Enlightenment paradigm persons are incompatibilists of a different form in the sense that they believe modern science is truly correct and that Ge 1-3 of the Bible is just a mistaken myth and a flawed human product – which should be superceded by better understandings of origins.  They also believe that Ge is incompatible with modern scientific theory but they believe that’s so because the modern scientific theory is truly correct and an accurate representation of what happened.  “The Bible is just a book of myths anyway,” they say.  The biblical story to them may have value in certain ways but it certainly is not the true story of how things began.

 

This post-Enlightenment position is, of course, very different from the incompatibilists within the Christian theological paradigm who hold that the Bible is correct and that science is wrong.

Within the Christian theological paradigm Creation is the true story of how things began so there remains this big discussion and debate which goes on to this day about how to relate Ge to modern scientific investigation and theories of evolution.  Is Creation incompatible or compatible with these theories?

 

Note:

 

Be mindful that our understanding of the cosmology of the universe and of origins through the centuries is always changing.  Our understanding of current cosmology is almost completely different today than it was 60 years ago.  In fact, our current cosmology is amazingly consonant with the main features of the Ge text so much so that the great cosmologist Stephen Hawking – who is radically anti-Christian and who at one time believed in the big bang theory of Creation – said in his second to last book that he had since rejected the big bang theory in favor of a steady state theory.  Members of his family were Christian and he refused to have the name of Christ mentioned in his presence.  Hawking said the big bang theory was too much like the biblical account of origins and that’s why he rejected it.  So the big bang theory with its belief that all things were created in one tremendous act of creation is very consonant with this Ge text.