Recently, a friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:
“The more I research about our origins, the more I realize that if we deny God’s hand in the creation of the universe, or if we settle with a theistic evolution or gap theory ideal, we are demeaning the Lord. We are telling Him through our beliefs that He is not perfect. “And it was very good.” I do not think that a perfect Lord would create via evolution, or have a second creation or anything like that. The creation story in Genesis 1&2 is to be taken literally. If we try to add or take away things, we are trying to correct God, and He does not need correcting.”
I do not take the post as unintelligent or its reasoning irrational, for my friend is very bright and I know that an abundant amount of other very intelligent people share my friend’s opinion and can make a powerful, reasonable defense for it. However, I do think that it operates on some assumptions that I perceive to be faulty in the end. The reasoning put forth is very common in contemporary Christian circles – that macro-evolution cannot be true and that the Creation story, as it is told in Genesis, must be taken literally because to claim otherwise would be to claim that God’s creation is flawed and can deviate from how God created it, meaning that God is not all-powerful. In this post, I will actually not declare assurance in whether the Creation story is a literal account or a figurative allegory (though I think I tend towards the latter); Instead, after arguing that the general argument for a literal account cannot be trusted by casting enough reasonable doubt upon the theory, I will advocate for a stance that refuses to pass judgment on the account’s nature and chooses, rather, to focus on what we can learn from the story about God and his creation.
First, I must make my position on modern theories of evolution clear. I believe micro-evolution (small changes in species overtime) as an observable and true part of nature. On the other hand, while readily admitting that I am not a “natural-sciences” person, I have some serious misgivings about common perceptions of macro-evolution (large changes in species overtime, generally causing species to actually change into recognizably “different” species), mostly because it is not observable in nature and cannot be tested at the moment. However, I will not go more into this at this time because it doesn’t actually apply to much to what I am trying to achieve, as I am not trying to argue for macro-evolution or actually trying to establish a figurative account as the only possible reading of Genesis.
As mentioned, the general argument for the literal account is based off a belief that God’s creation cannot change because, in doing so, it would mean that God is not all-powerful or perfect. Let’s look at this reasoning in a form of argument that is a favorite of mine due to its clarity – a series of sequential arguments as I understand them based off agreed upon premises:
Three Agreed upon Premises by both Figurative and Literal Arguments:
1. God is all powerful
2. God said his Creation was good
3. The original form of Creation was good
“Creation as Inalterable Perfection” Argument as a rejection of macro-evolution as evidence for a figurative creation account
A. If the original form of Creation was good, then any change would make it less than what God designed
B. If God’s creation has become less than what was originally designed, then it is “less” good.
C. If creation is “less” good, then it is no longer good.
D. If God’s creation is no longer good, then God is not perfect/all-powerful
Therefore, the next argument can be created by combining the conclusion of “A” and the conclusion of “D.”
E. If God’s creation has been changed, then God is not perfect/all-powerful.
This conclusion here is in direct contrast with premise “1.” Therefore, we can conclude that:
F. If God is perfect, then God’s creation cannot be changed.
It makes sense at first glance but, when examined more closely, it does not follow. The problem arises primarily around argument “A” but it isn’t recognizable until we perceive how the entire argument’s conclusion contradicts the world around us, which is constantly changing in very observable ways. On a large scale, I already attested to the fact that species can change in small ways over time (i.e. Darwin’s finches, moths changing wing colors due to the smog of the Industrial revolution, etc.). God’s creation is developing in a distinctly observable way. Other than the development of species, the physical nature of the land is also changing. Tectonic plates shift; rivers make valleys and canyons; tides change the shapes of beaches, etc. On even more simple level, everyday objects move around in time and space in such a way that the reality we perceive is never constant. I can get up and move to another chair; a new tree can grow from the ground; a light bulb can become dim. To me, these things seem to be undeniable. The point here is that everything changes. The world was not created “frozen” in time and space. If God had created a painting, where the objects remained resolutely where God had put them, and if he had proclaimed his painting as good and then I came along and claimed that half of it wasn’t even painted by him, then I would be challenging his power and the authority of his word. But God’s creation is quite obviously not a painting and, due to the natural laws he has created, is constantly changing its appearance. Therefore, I agree with premise “3” – that the original form of Creation was good. I simply think that God created a system, allowed to change, that was good. Here is the main point, in the form of sequential arguments:
The “Dynamic Creation” Argument as a rejection of absolute certainty in a literal creation account.
A. Due to the observable nature of Creation, we can conclude that Creation is always changing (i.e. Creation is inherently dynamic).
Ba. If Creation is inherently dynamic, then God created it to be so.
Bb. If Creation is inherently dynamic, then Creation’s present form is different from its original form.
C. If God created Creation to be dynamic and Creation’s present form is different from its original form, then Creation changing its form does not necessarily mean it becomes “less” good.
D. If Creation changing its form does not necessarily mean it becomes “less” good, then Creation’s dynamic form does not reject God’s proclamation that his creation is good.
E. If Creation’s dynamic form does not reject God’s proclamation that his creation is good, then Macro-Evolution, as a part of the stated dynamic form, does not contradict God’s creation as good.
Here is the main point:
F. If Macro-Evolution does not contradict God’s creation as good, then it does not necessarily follow that Macro-Evolution challenges God’s perfection and absolute authority.
Stated another way, we can say that, the “Frame” of Creation is God’s natural laws, which first enable and then regulate the dynamic nature of Creation. Without these natural laws to govern God’s creation, existence would be “formless and empty,” as is stated in Genesis 1:2. God’s natural laws actually shape Creation into existence. These natural laws, which God “spoke” into being, are what enabled (without denying God’s objective and ontological agency) the very first form of Creation and enables at this moment the present form of Creation. In addition to enabling each form of Creation, God’s natural laws also enable Creation to develop from one form to another and regulate what will be the nature of the next form¹ so as to keep Creation from developing randomly.²
For now, I leave the argument over whether Macro-Evolution is a viable theory to other minds, but I am content to say that if we ever find a way to “prove” its validity, it will certainly not shatter my belief that God created the heavens and the earth because then it is highly probable that the Genesis story is meant to be taken figuratively and that Macro-Evolution is simply a product of natural laws in the same way that a tree doesn’t automatically spring out of the ground but rather grows from a seedling in an identifiable, repeatable, and “natural”³ way.
However, as I stated in my thesis statement, I want to stress that I am not declaring the Genesis story as definitively a figurative story. Not that I actually have a say in the matter, but I completely leave it within God’s power to create the earth however he wants and to tell us quite literally how he did it. The point I am trying to make is that Macro-Evolution, if true, is not a rejection of God’s supreme lordship over everything. In fact, it is quite obvious that is the opposite; it soundly affirms God’s brilliance and power in the way he created Natural Laws.
That being said, I do tend to lean towards the story as being a figurative account because…
1) The general scientific consensus is that Macro-Evolution is the most viable explanation for the state of species today (though I already have stated that they haven’t completely swayed me)
2) Scientists also seem to think that the Earth is older than the Genesis account would have us believe
3) Many of the earliest, most influential church Fathers maintained that Genesis was figurative even before any notion of evolution was at all prevalent in scientific thought.
4) According to the Genesis account, there were “days” even before the Sun, which would lead us to believe that the “day” part of the story is a story-telling device, not meant to be taken literally
5) The order of what was created in Genesis is incredibly similar to standard conceptions of the order in which species developed (aka plant life before water life before land life before human life) It tells us that humans were created from dust, which is not far off from scientific opinions on the subject.
6) God generally uses the natural laws he has created to accomplish his plans (obviously not exclusively) and it would make sense for him to do so to create the Universe
These six reasons are not exclusive but, regardless, even all of them put together do not prove that the story is a figurative allegory; they simply seem to tell us that it makes the most sense. But making the “most sense” isn’t enough for me; and so I choose to continue to rationally think about the subject, remaining open to any possibility until I arrive at a full conclusion (if I do). Until then, I will settle with taking from the story what I can. God created the Universe and everything in it. I am created by God. All human beings on earth are created by God and, to God, they and I are all designed to be”very good” (a phrase he saves to only describe humans as opposed to simply “good” for everything else). Creation declares loudly that we and the rest of the Universe are his creation and that he is Lord and Ruler of all. These are only a few of the many powerful conclusions we are meant to draw from the story of Genesis, regardless of a literal or figurative account.
But my main point remains: The possible validity of Macro-Evolution as a theory on how life developed does not, in any way, declare God as less than all-powerful or less than perfect. If it is true, it is only a testament to how fine-tuned, beautiful, and designed God’s creation is.
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1. There are infinite forms, even between defined moments in time. The form of creation at present is different from the form creation took a minute ago, thirty seconds ago, ten seconds ago, five seconds ago, one second ago, a millisecond ago, and so it continues to an infinitely small difference in time that approaches, but never reaches zero. Time is generally considered to be a measurement of cause and effect which is another way of saying, “natural laws.” Each form is the cause of another form which in turn causes another form, even though it is not as simple as dominoes falling over (where we can observe forms as separately identifiable realities in time). Rather, the change from form to form is fluid and ever changing and the only way to identify different forms is to find some way to pause time.
2. To me, natural laws seem to display an intelligent design of the Universe by a being or force which exists outside of the reality we can recognize and is not subject to its laws. Instead, said being creates the laws. For natural laws cannot exist on their own as they are inherently rational, as opposed to an irrational, random, and utterly incomprehensible existence that would be the result of the absence of natural laws. This existence has actually existed (for want of a better word) before. As mentioned in the main body of this paper, Genesis 1:2 describes existence before the creation of natural laws as we know them to be “formless and empty.”
3. The Muslim theologian/philosopher al-Ghazälï maintained brilliantly that the existence we see around us and consider “natural” or “rational” is inherently spiritual, as it’s state is maintained and it’s cause-and-effect relationship is given authority by God himself, and that there is no true difference between “physical” and “spiritual” realities. For al-Ghazälï, the “physical” reality we think of as different from the “spiritual” is simply the habitual, repeating pattern in which God chooses to maintain his creation. When we see something as “spiritual,” it is only because God has chosen to alter his normal way of orchestration.