How Our Creator Shapes Us

HawaiiHow can we reconcile human evolution with the view of humans created in the image of God?

How can we even introduce the topic and address the questions students may have?

A month ago or so I introduced a project The Author of Life funded by the Evolution and Christian Faith program administered by BioLogos. Diane Sweeney (a high school biology teacher) and Joshua Hayashi (a school chaplain) are producing a multimedia curriculum with seven short videos (about 5-7 minutes) to encourage high school students (and others) to think deeply about God’s role as Creator. Their collective experience as chaplain and teacher shapes the approach they take to reach students, either Christian or non-Christian who have questions and concerns about the relationship between science and faith. The videos are available on YouTube and Vimeo (links below). At the Vimeo site they can be downloaded for use in three different resolutions including HD free of charge.

Today I would like to take a look at their fifth and sixth videos. These videos introduce what is, perhaps, the toughest question in evolution and Christian faith – human evolution and the image of God. Episode 5, entitled How Our Creator Shapes Us is probably the most controversial video in the lot, introducing the topic of human evolution. Based on experience over the years it is clear that some Christians will find Diane’s view too conservative and others will find it too edgy. This is a discussion we need to have, however, and the video will provide a good way to introduce it into conversation.

Continue reading

Posted in Creation, Evolution, Image of God, Resources for Discussion

Humans Are Changing the Global Climate.

Arctic_Ice_Extent_SeptemberJonathan Moo and Robert White in Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis are unequivocal about this: human activity is changing the global climate, period. They find the evidence to be undeniable and inescapable. They are also quite clear that they view this to be a serious problem that will harm humans, especially the weak and the poor. They are less certain about other aspects – whether we have or have not crossed a tipping point, how big the effects will be, and what specific measures should be taken. They present a number of lines of evidence for their view – one of which is the declining arctic sea ice extent in September when it is at a minimum each year. The overall decrease between 1979 and 2013 is approximately 50%, i.e. the September arctic sea ice extent today is half what it was in 1979. There is a decline for every month of the year, but the effect is largest in the heat of summer.

Global_Temperature_AnomalyMoo and White also include a plot of three different global average temperature records created independently. The NASA average (one of their three) is plotted to the right – image from wikipedia. The other two follow the same trend.

It is important, of course, to ask if these changes are “natural” or the result of human activity. There are, after all, natural fluctuations in the earth’s temperature resulting in periodic ice ages and periods of warming. In fact, it has been warmer at times in the past than it is today. The recent changes, however, are far too persistent and the turn-on was too sharp to be accounted for by known natural mechanisms unrelated to human activity. “But when the greenhouse gases produced by humans are added, the agreement between the models and the observed temperature record is much closer. … This is a potent indication that humans are responsible for the rapid temperature increase since preindustrial times.” (p. 66-67)

Continue reading

Posted in Environment, Public Issues | Tagged ,

Inspiration? Yes! – Inerrancy?

Barbedwire from WikipediaThe post last Thursday (Pre-adamism and Hermeneutics) focused on the methods of biblical interpretation brought to bear in considerations of Adam and pre-adamic populations, particularly on the role concordism played and the effect of the harmonizing strategies on interpretation. The discussion of concordism and harmonizing strategies developed to keep faith with both science and scripture leads quite naturally into a broader discussion of biblical inspiration, inerrancy and the authority of scripture as the Word of God. After all, the purpose of a concordist approach is to preserve the inerrancy and thus authority of the text.

What does inerrancy have to do with inspiration and/or authority? A commenter on one of Scot’s posts on Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy brought up Charles Ryrie’s statement on biblical inspiration (the commenter found it in a Study Bible, but I also find it on p. 76 of Basic Theology):

Formerly all that was necessary to affirm one’s belief in full inspiration was the statement, “I believe in the inspiration of the Bible.” But when some did not extend inspiration to the words of the text it became necessary to say, “I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible.” To counter the teaching that not all parts of the Bible were inspired, one had to say, “I believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible.” Then because some did not want to ascribe total accuracy to the Bible, it was necessary to say, “I believe in the verbal, plenary, infallible, inerrant inspiration of the Bible.” But then “infallible” and “inerrant” began to be limited to matters of faith only rather than also embracing all that the Bible records (including historical facts, genealogies, accounts of Creation, etc.), so it became necessary to add the concept of “unlimited inerrancy.” Each addition to the basic statement arose because of an erroneous teaching. (emphasis added)

Ryrie continues (also p. 76) …

The doctrine of inspiration is not something theologians have to force on the Bible. Rather it is a teaching of the Bible itself, a conclusion derived from the data contained in it.

I agree with Ryrie – inspiration is not something theologians have to force on the Bible and I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. But most of the subsequent refinements (responses to what Ryrie considered erroneous teachings), that define exactly what is meant to some people by “inspiration” culminating in “unlimited inerrancy,” do have to be forced on the text. These are not really something the Bible teaches of itself as a whole or conclusions that can be derived from the data contained in it. In fact they lead to a great deal of cognitive dissonance as many come to fear (or realize) that the text does not live up to the pronouncements.

Continue reading

Posted in Bible, Inerrancy, Problems for Faith

Pre-Adamism and Hermeneutics

LivingstoneSeveral years ago I read and posted on David Livingstone’s book Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. This is a book I enjoyed reading, so it was a real pleasure to meet David at the Evolution and Christian Faith Workshop last month, and to have an opportunity to talk about the book among other things. Given our recent focus on the question of Adam, not to mention the discussion of Biblical Inerrancy, Adam’s Ancestors is a book that warrants another look and some edited reposts. Today we have the final installment.

In Chapter 9, Dimensions: concluding reflections, Livingstone ties together several themes running through his book. For our purposes today I would like to consider one of these – concordism and the role of concordism in our understanding of the relationship between science and scripture.

Concordism expects a concord, an agreement between claims of scripture and reality. On one level I am a concordist – for example I believe that the historical and theological claims relating to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus match reality. There is a historical and a theological concordance with reality.

But is concordism the right approach to all of scripture? When and at what level is agreement to be expected?

Continue reading

Posted in Adam, Bible | Tagged

Oh The Destruction We Can Wreak

Apollo 8 earth riseLast month I introduced a new book Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan Moo and Robert White (courtesy of the publisher, IVP Academic) and promised a series of posts. Jonathan Moo is an assistant professor of biblical studies at Whitworth University in Spokane Washington. According to his biography at the Faraday Institute he holds undergraduate degrees in Biology and English (Lake Forest College), and graduate degrees in Wildlife Ecology (MS, Utah State University), and Theology (MA Old Testament, MA New Testament, both from Gordon-Conwell, PhD, Cambridge). Robert White is professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge UK, PhD Cambridge. They are both deeply concerned with what is often called “creation care” and the biblical mandate for human interaction with the earth on which we live.

The second chapter Life on Earth Today looks at the ways in which human activity has changed the earth. Not all of these changes are negative or destructive, but it is clear that some are, some have been, and dire consequences are possible. They are not calling on us to hang our heads in despair, but to look to an appropriate Christian response.

The first thing we must realize according to Moo and White is that the earth is of finite size with a quantifiable amount of natural resource. There is a limit to sustainable population growth.

Estimates of the sustainable carrying capacity of the earth vary widely according to what assumptions are made, but most lie in the range of 6 to 14 billion people, with the most common being 6 to 8 billion, roughly the same as the present global population. The question that all such estimates raise, however, is just what we mean by sustainable and to what extent we include humankind’s impact on the rest of life on earth. (p. 30)

They look at five global issues that face mankind.

Dodo1. Biodiversity. Extinctions are occurring at an accelerated rate and many of these are the result of human activity. Dodos (picture to the right), passenger pigeons, golden toads, and much, much more. Moo and White note that “on average one species on earth goes extinct every eight hours.” (p. 35) Most of these are not as romantic as dodos, passenger pigeons or quaggas (look it up), but even for insects the loss of biodiversity is a concern.

Why should we care about loss of biodiversity? Apart from aesthetic or moral considerations, one reason is that as humans we rely on living systems to keep our air breathable, our water drinkable, and to provide us with sufficient food. Loss of biodiversity makes the ecosystem vulnerable to diseases and other disasters thaht could wipe out species on which we depend. … The loss of even a few species in a complex interacting ecosystem can greatly reduce its resilience to change and make it vulnerable to catastrophic and irreversible failure. (p. 35)

Continue reading

Posted in Creation, Environment, Public Issues | Tagged ,

Pre-Adamite Populations?

LivingstoneOne of the questions raised by the evolutionary view of human origins is where, exactly to place Adam and the origin of the human race created in the image of God. Were there pre-Adamic humans? Are or were some “humans” (however we define human evolutionarily) not created in the image of God? However, this isn’t only a problem for evolutionary biology. It cropped up before evolution came into the picture, although it is clear that evolution muddies the waters even more. What are we to make of Neanderthals? Denisovans? Other populations we have yet to discover? Modern genetics tells us that these populations of hominids have contributed to the genetic make-up of segments of modern humans, but not all humans.

Several years ago I read and posted on David Livingstone’s book Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. This is a book I enjoyed reading, so it was a real pleasure to meet David Livingstone at the Evolution and Christian Faith Workshop last month, and to have an opportunity to talk about the book among other things. Given our recent focus on the question of Adam, Adam’s Ancestors is a book that warrants another look and some edited reposts and today we have the second installment.

The history of the discussion of Adam and pre-adamic man has several major streams – from skeptical undermining of the Christian narrative to Christian apologetic; monogenism (a single origin for all of humanity), polygenism (multiple origins for humankind), and racial superiority. These threads are present in the early 1600’s and are active even now, some four hundred plus years later.

Apologetics: Pre-adamism and the Harmony of Science and Religion. Livingstone sketches a variety of approaches taken in the nineteenth century to find ways to synthesize what was being learned from investigation of the world with the accounts of origins found in scripture. Darwin’s The Origin Of Species did not start this activity – it was well underway before Darwin published. But Darwin’s theory did contribute to the mix. The key factors early on were the issues of geological age, the fossil record, and the discovery of tools and artifacts (and eventually human fossils) that predated any reasonable date for a literal Adam as calculated from the biblical genealogies. Another consideration – one we often don’t consider much today, but should – was the history of language and the evolution of language.

Livingstone gives a fascinating discussion of the kinds of issues confronting Christians in the 1800’s – and the responses they devised. Two hermeneutical approaches were generally used to reconcile science and scripture; a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 or a distinction between the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2-3.

The “gap” … In the early 1800’s Scottish evangelical intellectual Thomas Chalmers and Oxford geologist William Buckland among others popularized the idea of a gap of unspecified length between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.

John Harris, Congregationalist clergyman and later principle of New College, London published The Pre-Adamite Earth in 1846 and Man Primeval in 1849 both of which had unoccupied geological ages and a six day Adamic creation.

Where Harris went beyond these standard concordist schemes was in his attempt to craft a metaphysic capable of mounting a robust defense of the idea that pre-adamite earth history was orchestrated by the Creator to be the theatre for human occupancy. (p. 83)

Herbert William Morris writing ca. 1870-1890:

Here then is a Hiatus – a vast gap – in the Mosaic narrative which it is important to observe. Between the creation of the earth, as stated in the first verse, and the condition in which it was found and described, in the second verse, there must have elapsed a long and indefinite period of time. (p. 85)

Two creations – successive human races. As evidence of human artifacts and later human remains in strata with long extinct animals came to light these narratives came to include pre-adamic people. Isabelle Duncan writing in 1860 suggested that the two Genesis stories reflect two creation narratives – the first, Genesis 1 is a pre-adamic creation. The six days are long ages and “the events of Creation must have passed in six successive visions before the mind of Moses.” Duncan’s pre-adamic world was populated by animals and by humans. The presence of “pre-adamic” human artifacts, but absence of “pre-adamic” human remains was explained by bodily resurrection to become the Angelic Host. James Gall, on the other hand saw “a botched humanity under the influence of satanic forces” in the pre-adamic artifacts and remains. George Hawkins Pember speculated that demons might be “the spirits of those who trod this earth in the flesh before the ruin described in the second verse of Genesis. (p. 93)”

The approach in all three cases – Duncan, Gall and Pember – was concordist, a direct attempt to reconcile new discoveries in archaeology and paleontology with the Biblical account.

Continue reading

Posted in Adam, Evolution, Humanness | Tagged

Richard Middleton: After The Liberating Image

imageAs I am off vacationing this week, picking wild blueberries (four  pies worth this morning) and getting in a little fishing, we have a great opportunity to think a little deeper about the image of God. Earlier this year we took a long look at Richard Middleton’s book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1. Today we have a guest post response by Middleton describing how his thinking has developed since the book was published.  

Richard Middleton: After The Liberating Image.

I’m honored that RJS has posted a nine-part series on my book The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1 (Brazos, 2005). The exposition and analysis of my argument in these posts has been totally accurate (something I have only rarely found in book reviews). In this post I am responding to RJS’s invitation to share some of my more recent thoughts on the topic of the imago Dei.

My Purpose in The Liberating Image

In The Liberating Image I was primarily concerned to bridge the gap between Old Testament studies and systematic theology on the topic of the imago Dei. So I took pains to justify a royal-functional interpretation of the image (the mainstream view among Old Testament scholars), the view that humans are God’s royal representatives on earth, charged with manifesting his rule through the range of their cultural activities. I attempted to do this by interpreting Genesis 1:26-28 in its immediate literary context (Genesis 1:1-2:3), in the wider symbolic world of the Old Testament, and against the background of ancient Near Eastern (especially Mesopotamian) royal ideology and creation myths. And I tried to show that this interpretation made sense of Genesis 1-11 as a coherent narrative meant to shape the worldview of ancient Israel (and, by implication, the church today). To that end I addressed some of the ethical implications of the imago Dei especially concerning the legitimation of violence.

Topics Omitted from The Liberating Image

There was, of course, much more that could be said. I had originally planned to include an analysis of the critique of idolatry and monarchy in the Old Testament prophets, and I had wanted to address Jesus as imago Dei, the renewal of image in the church, and the fulfillment of the imago Dei in the eschaton. This ended up being beyond the scope of the book.

I had, however, touched on some of those topics earlier—in The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (a 1984 book co-authored with Brian Walsh) and in “The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context” (a 1994 article in Christian Scholar’s Review).

Continue reading

Posted in Image of God | Tagged