Tuesday, March 21, 2006

God etc

Michele Hanson in the Guardian yesterday bemoaned what she percieves as the crumbling of secularism. Secularism, which the media likes to hold as the epitome of civilised society, apparently is giving way to people interested in faith. Fundamentalists is the term used by our print media friends.

Similar to the article I linked to a couple of months ago Michele is seeing Churches spring up around the corner and missionaries on the street. 'Missionary,' she seethes, 'is my least favourite word'. It seems as if something is going on, a revolution perhaps. Click on the link below to read the story:

Oh, pity the poor infidel who just wants to be left alone.

Also of interest to me, and in the news today is the Intelligent Design v Creationism v Evolution debate. The Archbishop of Cantebury, Rowan Williams has said that he doesn't think Creationism should be taught in schools. He thinks it could detract from the doctrine. The Guardian has the interview here.


David Williamson said...

I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that six day creationists largely belong to the same subculture as people who circulate as facts myths that the moon landings were faked.

There's the Gnostic thrill of secret knowledge, the kick of belonging to a group who believes the rest of the world is wrong...

The great Ben Myers (www.faith-theology.blogspot.com) made a super point after reading Rowan's wise words:

"What Christian groups need is a deeper understanding of creation —which in itself would simply overturn the whole misguided project of creationism."

Heather said...

I don't think it's fair to dismiss people who take the Bible as literal truth to be "the same subculture who circulate facts as myths".

For the Christian who says he believes in the literal truth of the incarnation, is your God not able to create the earth in 6 days?

The concept of evolution, disregarding the fact that species evolution has never been observed, doesn't fit with the whole theme of redemption in the Bible. Evolution relies on death. You need a species to mutate, reproduce and die.

The Bible and the whole story of redemption tells us that death entered the world through sin. That came from the first man, Adam.

If there was death before that Adam's act did not bring sin into the world and so the Bible was wrong. If the Bible is right, there was no death before sin.Romans 5:12 says "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned".

The Old Testament law parallels creation. God had no need to invent a fiction. If God had wanted to use evolution he could have, and he would have told us about it in the Bible.

When Moses gave the law in Exodus 20:10 he wrote"and God gave the israelites the law saying rest on the seventh day because God created the earth in 6 and rested on the 7th". Why would God base the law on a fairy tale?

Chris Andrews said...

Hey guys

Interesting debate that the two of you are having, although I'd have to side with Dave on this, to a certain extent. I'm sure one day we will see that the creation story and science will both support each other and that it is a case of trying to work out how they might do so. One interesting viewpoint is that the six days of creation were six different visions given by God over a period of six days, showing various aspects of the creation of the world, rather than it being a chronological account.

Interestingly Genesis tells us that God said "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness...". He does not say 'Let us make man', but let us make him in our own image. Maybe man had evolved up to a point at which God decided to make him aware of his creator and thus fully human.

Also, when would these six days of creation have taken place? Are we talking 6000, 12000, 100000 or millions of years ago?

I take it that the idea of sin entering the world with Adam does pose a significant problem to the view which I have expressed above. However, the idea of death had to have been present in creation long before Adam and Eve sinned for there to have been hair or nails. Also they would have been unable to have eaten the fruit as this would have caused the death of the fruit.

I personally do not have a difficulty with seeing the world slowly evolving over time. Heather has asked whether God was not able to create the world in six day. Of course he was. But if you look at the devlopment of the foetus, it is not an immedeate event. God designed us to gradually devlop in our mothers' wombs over a period of 9 months. That is not to say that he could not have made fertilisation, development and pregnancy an instantaneous event.

Or take a spiritual example. God did not send the ultimate revelation of who he was for over 2000 years after Abraham. Instead we see the gradual devlopment within Judaism of an understanding of who God is and what he is like. We have the devlopment of God dwelling in the tabernacle, then the temple, then in Christ himself. It was only in Christ that we get the ultimate revelation of who God is and what he is like. Therefore why should God not have taken time to lovingly mold and devlop his infant universe and the species of mankind into what it finally became?

Well, all very interesting and I'd really appreciate hearing some other views on this.

Fundamentalist Christian said...

I don't think eating an apple, cutting your hair or clipping your toe-nail is quite the same sort of death that God was talking about after the Fall of Adam.

David Williamson said...

Is the bible literal truth? Yup! It's truth expressed through literature.

The opening of Genesis is a great swirling poem, written in verse and depicting God making man "in our image".

It's interesting to ponder that this may not mean the creation from zilch of "man", but rather the elevation of man into a creation capable of knowing his creator - much like how the Queen can make a man a knight and welcome him into her court.

It's a very post-Enlightenment trend to downplay mythology as somehow less true or noble than facts. But the idea that a scientific account of the creation of the earth would be able to contain the cosmic drama in which it took place is unlikely. Right in the heart of this tragic, as you note, we see the seed of redemption.

CS Lewis coined the term "a true myth" and I think that's what we're dealing with here. That's not for a second to downplay or diminish the standing of scripture, but rather to acknowledge the diversity and riches of the canon.

For a brilliant literary analysis of Genesis 1, I recommended Eugene Peterson's introduction to spiritual theology: "Christ Plays in 10,000 Places".

As for the moon landings joshing... It's frustration directed at myself for being immersed in that conspiracy theory culture during childhood. When I wasn't trying to figure out who shot JFK I was arguing that there were remains of the Ark on Mt Ararat and looking at barcodes for the sign of the beast.

The fact that at bible studies we spent hundreds of hours mixing bad history, lousy science and terrible theology (when we could have been reading the world's most beautiful book!) drives me nuts.

Claire Fayers said...

I believe Romans 5 is talking about the death of people and not necessarily of plants and animals as well. 'Death came to all men.' (See also 1 Corinthians 15:22 - 'For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive'. If the word 'all' also includes plants and animals, Paul seems to be saying that all plant and animal life will be resurrected in Christ, which we know is not the case.)

I'm also open to the possibility that Paul was talking about spiritual life and death rather than physical, but who knows? Without the Fall we might have been like Enoch, taken by God without going through physical death. Certainly, there'd have to be some mechanism for getting us off the planet without death, otherwise it'd be standing room only by now.

Six literal days, six periods of time or a poetical device? Hard to tell without having been there, but I've studied a lot of ancient literature and the oral tradition and come to recognise the patterns, and Genesis fits exactly. First the earth is described as formless and empty, then in 3 stages God gives it form and, in another 3, he fills it. The rule of things happening in threes is an almost universal one - only a few cultures don't have it. It's possible that we're reading a stylised account that exploits a common structure. It also solves the problem, for example, of day and night being created before the sun because the writer isn't concerned about chronological order so much as revealing God's purpose and thought processes in creating the world. (You get the same thing in the gospels, writers often group the same incidents in different orders to make different points.)

On the subject of the law, I think God put the Sabbath in place as a representation of his creative process, in the same way that the Tabernacle, the Passover, communion, baptism etc all represent something far bigger. I almost think that God does need to talk to us in stories because it's the only way we can start to understand anything he's saying.

But I whole-heartedly agree with the importance of the Bible's central message of sin and redemption; that the OT law was founded on the character of God himself; that God is able to create a mature universe out of nothing in six days flat if he so chooses.

Maybe someone else will chip in with a scientific viewpoint, because Romans 1 says the natural world is also a revelation of God and therefore what we understand from nature should point us to God, not away from him.

Phillip Fayers said...

I like to think of myself as a scientist. That is I have a scientific background (Physics & Computing) and I've spent 16 years working in a university alongside research scientists.

Ever since doing the Physics at 'A' Level I've been fascinated by how God created the universe. I had a Physics teacher who explained E=mc2 by telling us that matter was just a little bit of energy moving. Since then, and since studying fundamental particles at university, I've been awestruck by the concept of God not only as creator but as sustainer.

The Bible tells us that God sustains all things. The Physics tells me that everything of reality is just energy moving. I just can't work out how God manages to keep all that energy moving in all the right ways. I'm even more impressed by the fact that if God decided to he could with a word, or perhaps with the cessation of a word, cause all things to cease to exist.

The current division between science and Christianity is a recent divide, created in part by a breed of Evangelical Atheists who have attempted to use science to disprove the existence of God. The church as responded by attempting to use God to disprove science. The church should have instead taken the line of Stephen Jay Gould (an agnostic scientist) who said:

"To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time: science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists."

I believe the same applies to those cases where theology, by its methods, tries to adjudicate in science. To quote Dave's favourite theologian, Karl Barth (from Evangelical Theology, An Introduction):

"Ever since the fading of its illusory splendor as a leading academic power during the Middle Ages, theology has taken too many pains to justify its own existence. It has tried too hard, especially in the nineteenth century, to secure for itself at least a small but honorable place in the throne room of general science. This attempt at self-justification has been no help to its own work."

Earlier in the same work Barth says:

"For the very reason that it is devoted to the God who proclaims himself in the Gospel, evangelical theology cannot claim for itself that authority which belongs to him alone."

We, all too often, fall into that trap.

To address the specific comment which that species evolution has never been observed; have a look at the Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ at Talk Origins. It lists a large number of transitional types found in the fossil record. It also has a nice commentary at the very end on the various interpretations of Genesis and which ones fit with science and which ones don't (in the authors opinion of course).

It's also worth looking at Observed Instances of Speciation (which details a number of incidents of observed speciation in plant and animal experiments) in fact Talk Origins as a whole is a pretty good resource for looking at the various arguments in the creation/evolution debate over the past few years.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting but isn't your blog meant to be "About the Music"? I don't believe in literal 6-day creation by the way.

David Williamson said...

An alternative would be to call it "About the Monkees" which would allow you to blog and evolution and music, though from a limited number of bands - well, one, but they did make good TV shows.