The Language of God 4

Francis_Collins dsThis is the fourth in a series of posts looking at the book The Language of God by Francis S. Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). Two lectures by Dr. Collins were linked in the last post. Three more can be found on the Veritas Forum site, including ones from Mar. 2007 (at MIT) and Feb. 2008 (at UC Berkeley). The third was delivered at Pepperdine, but I am fairly sure the date given is not right (OK, now corrected).

Part Three of The Language of God deals with faith in science and faith in God – reconciling the conflict. There are two major aspects of this conflict in our world today and we will deal with them in the next two posts. Today scripture – tomorrow (well… the next day) the world.

The first, and probably the most important, consideration is the conflict or apparent conflict between the words of scripture and the nature of the world. How do we look at the story of Genesis, the doctrinal implications of that story, and the evidence of the world? In many ways, this has been the elephant in the middle of the room for the last several posts, and it has stepped into our conversation on more than one occasion. Dr. Collins is an expert on the science – and so am I – but here we step out of our comfort zone a bit. So let’s consider several options and open up a discussion with our usual civility and respect.

Option 1. The creation story – and all of Genesis 1-11 – is to be treated literally and historically, from “In the beginning” through the flood to Abraham. Faith trumps science.

But, young earth creationism and “flood geology” or other such approaches are absolutely incompatible with modern science and what we know about the world. Tinkering around the edges won’t make our empirical knowledge from observation of the world compatible with a young earth. Even gap theories and day-age theories have some serious problems.

Mature creationism is a viable approach. In this view it is postulated that God created the world as described in Genesis – but to look as though it was aged. Trees would have rings, Adam, Eve, and other first generation mammals would have navels, etc. The world and universe would look as though it had evolved naturally as it came into being. Science projects into the “would have been” past.

In my mind both of these approaches suffer from a theological flaw – I don’t see how to get around the fact that this portrays God as great deceiver. Why would God create a world to look as though it was old, as though evolution of the species was a reality in intricate, self-consistent ways, and then penalize us for believing that evidence? Dr. Collins advances the same type of objections.

Option 2. Genesis is theologically true – but perhaps it need not be historical description. Theological truth can be told in a multitude of ways. Augustine mused on this extensively and it has been discussed through the centuries since. Is Genesis poetry – or perhaps parable? Is Genesis intended to instruct readers of Moses’ time about God’s character in the appropriate way for the times – with confusing scientific detail inappropriate to the day? Does Genesis appropriate ANE myth to tell God’s story? Does God accommodate the telling of his story to human understanding and outlook? Even John Calvin used the principle of accommodation in his interpretation of Genesis and other parts of scripture.

Problem 3. But what about Adam, Eve, and the Fall? Many Christian institutions (and Wheaton leaps to mind here) will accept an old earth and many aspects of evolution, but the historical creation account of Adam and Eve is still affirmed as a nonnegotiable. Our theology depends on God’s perfect creation (his method is not the issue) followed by rebellion, redemption, and reunion. Does this theology depend on a unique historical Adam and a unique historical Eve as two humans from whom all others descend?

What do you think?

Is Genesis historical description or may it contain theological truth told in other forms?
Does it matter? Why or why not?

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