This is the second part of my series “Creation, Evolution, and Evangelicalism“. To be honest, it’s not the most snappy title I’ve ever come up with, but it will do for now.
In this post I will be exploring the reasons I believe that Creationism is wrong. Creationism is the belief that Genesis 1-2 describe literal events, i.e. that the world was created in six literal 24-hour periods. You can find out more information about it than you’d probably ever want to know on the Answers in Genesis website. Now, I should point out before we start that the Answers in Genesis beliefs were my own up until relatively recently (well, 2003, which I will admit is not all that recent.) In my teenage years I used to get magazines which set out the standard Creationist arguments about flood geology and the like. I probably still have some of the magazines at my parents’ house, I should look them out at Christmas!
Anyway, my contention is that there are problems with Creationism which aren’t just to do with believing in evolution per se. Let me try and explain a few objections which I have. Note that I’m not arguing here for evolution, I’m just arguing against a literal 6-day Creationism.
What is a ‘Plain Understanding’ of the text?
If you read through the Answers in Genesis section on the Bible, you will often find that they appeal to a straight or plain reading of the text. In general, if you believe that the ‘day’ of Genesis 1 is not a 24-hour, literal day then you are being influenced by external factors and not accepting the text as it is speaking to you.
Now I think this is a wrong way of looking at it for several reasons:
One person’s “plain meaning” may be different to someone else’s. What if I read Genesis 1-2 and see it as a myth (I don’t, but for the sake of argument…)? Everyone starts from a particular worldview, and things will be ‘obvious’ to some people which aren’t to others because of their presuppositions.
You can’t read a modern, English translation of the Bible and then talk about the ‘plain meaning’ of the text. Genesis was written in Hebrew, to an audience of ancient Israelites. The plain meaning of the text will likely be different for us than it was for them. In the Moore Course ‘Introduction to the Bible’ unit, they talk about the historico-grammatical approach. This involves taking a Bible passage and analysing it for both what the text actually means (i.e. the words, the grammar), and then putting it into its appropriate historical context to determine what the original readers would have meant by it. Reading Genesis 1-2 as ‘plain and literal’ is too simplistic.
Additionally, claiming a ‘plain reading of the text’ for the creation narrative, I believe, is applied somewhat inconsistently. There are passages in the Bible (which you can read about in “The Flat-Earth Bible”) which would appear to indicate the earth is either flat, or immovable – i.e. that the Sun moves round the earth. We don’t believe that anymore. Now, one could easily make the case that a plain reading of the text would indicate that the sun goes round the earth… but these days we don’t see it that way. Clearly the passages are all speaking figuratively, making theological points rather than scientific ones. But is it our understanding of the way the planets work and rotate which is determining how we interpret that Scripture? I’m not arguing here for us to interpret those verses in a literal sense. I’m just saying, is it consistent for the literal 6-day Creationists to say we can’t interpret Genesis 1-2 in the light of science, when that is apparently what everyone is doing with those other passages in terms of planetary motion?
I also believe literal 6-day Creationists interpret Genesis 1-2 in a way which is somewhat inconsistent themselves. They claim that ‘yom’, the Hebrew word for ‘day’ in Genesis 1, in general does not mean anything other than a 24-hour day. However, the literal translation of Genesis 2:4 is something like: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” (ESV) Clearly, the ‘day’ referred to here is not a literal 24-hour period! So it’s perfectly fine to interpret ‘day’ here figuratively, but definitely NOT in Genesis 1. For a much more detailed treatment of this, and many other issues, see “Understanding the Biblical Creation Passages” by Paul Marston (book in PDF format – note that this book goes further into what I want to talk about in a future post, namely about the alternative view of the creation narrative).
In conclusion, then, I believe that it is invalid for us to believe that the creation narrative must be taken ‘literally’, in the way that the Creationists would have us read it. Ironically enough, the literalist mindset seems to rise from a Modernist worldview – a Modernist worldview which would be opposed to Scripture! But anyway, I’ve spent long enough on this. Let me just consider one or two more issues.
What happened after the fall?
One of the Creationist doctrines is that there was no death before the fall. No animals or humans died before mankind sinned, and God instituted his curse. Now, as I’m sure you are all no doubt aware, lots of animals eat each other. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that there are a more than a few species out there which wouldn’t survive without meat.
So, what happened at the fall? Did God instantly transform a random number of species into carnivores instantly? Apparently the last 6,000 years or so is not enough time to see the diversity that we see today.
It just seems wildly implausible to me (my ‘natural reading’, perhaps?) that God would instantly transform a number of creatures into carnivores, and it is apparently impossible that they could have evolved that way in the time. This is a problem.
Why does the earth appear to be so old?
The earth – nay, the universe – appears to be very old. There is plenty of scientific evidence for this, much of which Creationists accept (to a point). It honestly looks like the Earth is millions of years old, and our universe is even older. Tools have been found which apparently date to around 150,000 – 200,000 years ago. Now, at the risk of pre-empting my next blog post (about the reasons for believing in evolution), it seems to me that it’s impossible to reconcile that with a Creationist view.
I once heard a sermon where the preacher said, “God created an old Earth… Adam and Eve weren’t knee-high in tree saplings.” As far as I can tell, this is a common Creationist view. The problem I have is that this makes God out to be some kind of deceiver: he basically set the world up to look like it was really old, but actually it wasn’t. Is this compatible with the scriptural doctrine that “God cannot lie” (e.g. Titus 1:2)?
In my opinion, belief in Creationism is not possible for a number of reasons as outlined above. At this point I am not arguing for a belief in evolution, or any other theory, but it seems to me that a literal, 6-day Creation is not taught by the Bible.
In my next post in this series, I hope to look at some of the evidence for evolution and why it would be right to believe in it.