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Why Evolutionary Creationism?

A commonly asked question is how to reconcile evolution and the Bible. It's a fair question, but one which is based on the belief that Genesis 1 was intended to be read as a literal account of creation. Given that young earth creationists appeal to a literal reading of Genesis 1 to insist that Genesis 1 teaches recent creation in six literal days, those asking this question also need to ask how to reconcile geology and astronomy with the Bible.

Genesis

The fact that our community has been traditionally old earth creationist shows that we have a tradition of attempting to reconcile science with the Bible in a non-fundamentalist manner. OEC views such as the gap theory and the day-age theory, along with more recent views such as days of divine fiat, or days of divine revelation show that our community, while not accepting evolution, has recognised the problems inherent in a literal or strong concordist approach to reconciling Bible and science, at least with the age of the earth, and the timing and duration of creation events.

Interestingly, bro C.C. Walker, while not accepting evolution, made two perceptive observations that point the way towards answering this question. In discussing the existence of extinct forms of life markedly different to currently living forms, he stated: 
Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity.' [1] (Emphasis mine)
Furthermore, when rebutting the views of a flat earth Christadelphian, he noted that the main purpose of the creation narratives was theological rather than scientific:
"Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history." [2] (Emphasis mine)
Bro. Walker's first point makes what should be an uncontroversial statement - you change your interpretations when the facts demand them. Given that the evidence for an old earth and evolution is overwhelming, intellectual honesty alone would require us to change our interpretation of Genesis 1 accordingly.

As for how we change that interpretation, the problem comes when we think that Genesis was written as an account of material origins, scientifically accurate, and intended to be read literally. However, as bro Walker noted, when responding to a letter from a Christadelphian who believed that the Bible required one to believe the Earth was flat, the creation narratives were given to a pre-scientific audience, and were intended not so much to teach science, as to defend faith.We miss the point when we try to construct ever more ingenious ways of trying to harmonise the order of creation events with the scientific evidence. As bro. Walker said, Genesis was not written primarily to provide Israel with a detailed account of origins.

The respected evangelical Christian and geologist Davis Young, at the end of his summary of how Christians geologists over the years have tried to reconcile a literal reading of Genesis with the geological evidence noted, in words that evoke those of bro. Walker:
I suggest that we will be on the right track if we stop treating Genesis 1 and the flood story as scientific and historical reports. We can forever avoid falling into the perpetual conflicts between Genesis and geology if we follow those evangelical scholars who stress that Genesis is divinely inspired ancient near eastern literature written within a specific historical context that entailed well-defined thought patterns, literary forms, symbols, and images. It makes sense that Genesis presents a theology of creation that is fully aware of and challenges the numerous polytheistic cosmogonic myths of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the other cultures surrounding Israel by exposing their idolatrous worship of the heavenly bodies, of the animals, and of the rivers by claiming that all of those things are creatures of the living God. The stars are not deities. God brought the stars into being. The rivers are not deities. God brought the waters into existence. The animals are not deities to be worshipped and feared, for God created the animals and controls them. Even the "chaos" is under the supreme hand of the living God. Thus Genesis 1 calmly asserts the bankruptcy of the pagan polytheism from which Israel was drawn and that constantly existed as a threat to Israel's continuing faithfulness to the true God of heaven and earth. [3] (Emphasis mine)
In short, Genesis 1 is more concerned with who created and why, rather than how. Asking how to reconcile Genesis 1 with any scientific facts is asking it a question that it was never written to answer.

This is made quite clear by the clear reference to ancient Near Eastern cosmogeography in Genesis 1 with its reference to a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below, something that is entirely uncontroversial in mainstream scholarly circles:
Genesis and modern science are neither enemies nor friends, but two different ways of describing the world according to the means available to the people living at these different times. To insist that the description of the sky in Genesis 1 must conform to contemporary scientific is a big theological problem. It is important to remember that God always speaks in ways that people can actually understand. In the ancient world, people held certain views about the world around them. Those views are also reflected in Genesis. If we keep this in mind, much of the conflict can subside.

Let me summarize some of the general arguments for why raqia is understood by contemporary biblical scholars as a solid structure:

  1. The other cosmologies from the ancient world depict some solid structure in the sky. The most natural explanation of the raqia is that it also reflects this understanding. There is no indication that Genesis is a novel description of the sky;
  2. Virtually every description of raqia from antiquity to the Renaissance depicts it as solid. The non-solid interpretation of raqia is a novelty;
  3. According to the flood story in Gen 7:11 and 8:2, the waters above were held back only to be released through the “floodgates of the heavens” (literally, “lattice windows”);
  4. Other Old Testament passages are consistent with the raqia being solid (Ezekiel1:22; Job 37:18; Psalm 148:4);
  5. According to Gen 1:20, the birds fly in front of the raqia (in the air), not in the raqia;
  6. The noun raqia is derived form the verb that means to beat out or stamp out, as in hammering metal into thin plates (Exodus 39:3). This suggests that the noun form is likewise related to something solid;
  7.  Speaking of the sky as being stretched out like a canopy/tent (Isaiah 40:22) or that it will roll up like a scroll (34:4) are clearly similes and do not support the view that raqia in Genesis 1 is non-solid.
The solid nature of the raqia is well established. It is not the result of an anti-Christian conspiracy to find errors in the Bible, but the “solid” result of scholars doing their job. This does not mean that there can be no discussion or debate. But, to introduce a novel interpretation of raqia would require new evidence or at least a reconsideration of the evidence we have that would be compelling to those who do not have a vested religious interest in maintaining one view or another. [4]
Given that we know there is no solid firmament above us separating waters above from waters below, this Divine concession to pre-scientific views on cosmology is clearly telling us that God was not interested in providing a scientifically accurate account of origins, but rather providing a theology of creation, in which the rival claims of competing deities were subverted. This of course means that if God was not interested in providing a scientifically accurate account of origins, and was happy to accommodate pre-scientific worldviews to convey His message, the question of trying to harmonise any science with Genesis 1 is the wrong question to ask of it.

The non-literal nature of Genesis 1 is also apparent when we see that the days are structured into two triads, with days 1-3 outlining the creation of 'domains' and days 4-6 outlining the creation of 'domain rulers':


Day 1: Separating light from dark
Day 2: Separating waters above from waters below
Day 3: Separating dry land from water / creation of plants

Day 4: Creation of sun, moon, and stars
Day 5: Creation of birds / sea creatures
Day 6: Creation of land animals / creation of humans

This parallelism not only shows that the structure of Genesis 1 is arguing against reading it as prose narrative, but also draws our attention to what the aim of each of the pairs of days is. The OT scholar John Walton has rightly pointed out that what we see here is the ordination of functions critical to an agrarian society:
  1. Creation of time
  2. Creation of weather
  3. Creation of agriculture
In other words, Genesis 1 shows that it is YHWH, and not the false gods who created the ordered world and ordained the key functional attributes that made it a fruitful one. This is what would have been of interest to a pre-scientific society.

Romans

The other issue raised against evolution is that our theology is contingent on the belief that every human being descended exclusively from Adam in order to genetically inherit a changed nature inflicted on Adam post-sin. Of course, the genetic and fossil evidence completely rules out this possibility. There is too much genetic diversity in the human genome for us to have originated from two people living 6000 years ago, while the fossil evidence shows human origins stretching back well into the past.

Whether there was a 'change of nature' after the fall is a question that has exercised not just our community, but the Christian church for centuries. What many anti-evolutionists in our community who insist that our theology is contingent on monogenism (the belief that the entire human race descended exclusively from two people) overlook is that there has been no unanimity on this question. Anti-evolutionists in our community who claim that belief in a changed nature has been normative ignore the fact that no less a figure than bro. :L.G. Sargent, fourth editor of The Christadelphian specifically argued against the belief that one can be neither mortal nor immortal, a view which is presupposed by those who argue for a change in nature:
The difficulty arises not from any lack of essential clarity in Dr. Thomas’s thought, but from an ambiguity in the term “mortal”. The word “immortal” is taken to mean “incapable of death”; and “mortal” might be expected to mean its simple opposite, “capable of death”: whereas in fact it is used in the sense of “subject to death, destined to die”—a more restricted meaning which has the support of dictionaries.

It was owing to this ambiguity that Dr. Thomas could write: “But, if they were not mortal in their novitiate, it is also true that they were not immortal. To say that immortals were expelled from the garden of Eden, that they might not live for ever by eating of the tree, is absurd”. It is indeed. He then continues cogently: “The truth is in few words, man was created with a nature endued with certain susceptibilities. He was capable of death; and capable of endless life; but, whether he should merge into mortality; or, by a physical change be clothed with immortality, was predicated on his choosing to do good or evil. Capacity must not be confounded with impletion”.

The bare terms, stripped of the qualifying and amplifying phrases with which Dr. Thomas defines his meaning, have sometimes been thrown into the bald proposition that “Adam before the fall was neither mortal nor immortal”; which (to quote Euclid and Dr. Thomas) is absurd. A thing is either X or not-X: there can be no “neutral” position between.
 A man cannot be neither mortal nor not-mortal; and he cannot be neither not-mortal nor not-not-mortal. A thing is either black or not black, white or not white; it is either in the class of objects which have in common the quality of blackness, or it is in the class “not-black” which includes every other kind of colour, shade or tone. But it must come in one class or the other: there can be no neutral position between those two classes.
 
If, then, we take “immortal” to mean “incapable of dying” (as Dr. Thomas does in the passage quoted), we must say that Adam in his novitiate was not incapable of dying, therefore capable of dying, and therefore “mortal” as a simple antithesis to immortal, and using the widest sense of an ambiguous term.

There is a class, “incapable of dying”; all not included in it must be included in the class “capable of dying”; but the latter class may be divided into two sections: (A) those in whom death is only a capacity—a latent capacity, as we might say; and (B) those in whom it is an active condition. Both are included in one wide classification, “not-immortal”: but it is the sub-class in whom death is an active principle who are, on a stricter definition of terms, called “mortal”, because they are “subject to death, destined to die”.

Adam was always within the class, “capable of death”, but on the sentence of God he passed from the sub-class in whom it is a latent capacity to the sub-class who are actively subject to corruption as a law of their being; and in that class all his posterity have remained—all save One, who has been “made perfect” [5]
(Emphasis mine)
Bro. Sargent did not accept evolution and regarded Adam as the first human, but in pointing out that a 'neither mortal nor immortal' state is a contradiction in terms, and pointing out that Adam was created mortal, that is, capable of dying, the implication here is that there was no physical change of nature after sin, and the theological imperative for all human beings to be genetically descended from Adam in order to inherit a physically changed nature vanishes. It is a tragedy to see anti-evolutionists needlessly creating conflicts between Bible and science by insisting that Adam's nature was physically changed after his sin (a view that is dangerously close to the doctrine of Original Sin) given that this view mandates monogenism, a position that can no longer be maintained given the evidence against it.


Further Reading







References

1. Walker C.C. "Genesis", The Christadelphian (1910) 47:501
2. Walker CC “Is it wrong to believe that the earth is a sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913) 50:346

3. Young D. A. "Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part 2)" Westminster Theological Journal (1987) 49:303
4. Enns P "The Firmament of Genesis 1 is Solid but That's Not the Point" Biologos Blog Jan 14 2010
5. Sargent L.G. "Adam in Innocence" The Christadelphian (1941) 78:14