A Leap of Truth: Evolutionary Creation and Genesis

A couple of months ago Scot posted the trailer for a new documentary film coming out soon called “A Leap of Truth“. This film, by Ryan Pettey at Satellite Pictures, is designed to be a positive contribution to the discussion of science and faith, especially science and evangelical Christian faith. I have had the opportunity to view a couple of preliminary versions of the film, and it should be a great conversation starter.

The feature length film was produced in cooperation with BioLogos and few short topic driven clips are being featured on their blog as conversation starters. These are not available for embedding on other sites, at least not at this time – but you can view the clip on BioLogos and we can continue the conversation here. Transcripts of the clips are also available on the BioLogos posts.

The first clip, posted last week, looks at the idea of evolutionary creation and asks what this might mean for our understanding of God’s work in creation. The second clip, posted yesterday deals with the intent of the book of Genesis, especially the intent of Genesis One.

What is the essence of the Christian doctrine of creation? Where do you start?

In what way does Genesis teach creation?

Evolutionary Creation. The clip on evolutionary creation runs through a number of ideas about the nature of creation in the context of evolution. One of the broad themes is that God works in history and through process. This is true today, it is certainly true in human history. To accept the idea of evolutionary creation is to accept this as a continuation of the theme. God works and has worked in history through his “natural” processes.

Dr. Jeff Schloss (Biology professor at Westmont College) notes

The scriptures make it very plain that while God does marvels, miraculous marvels, he embeds these marvels in a historical process. … Well, why does God use history to achieve his purposes? Why not just have created everything right to begin with? And then, if it were made wrong at a point in time by Adam and Eve falling, why not just have Christ die right there in the Garden and have salvation? Why wait thousands of years for the revelation of Christ? And we don’t get to have the answer to that.

This isn’t to deny miraculous events – God has, does, and will interact with his creation and his creatures in specific direct ways. But there is time and process involved in creation. There is nothing inherently contradictory in the idea that God would create through the “natural” process of evolution including mutation and selection.

The Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne develops the theme further in his comments.

The doctrine of creation isn’t about how things began, it’s about why things exist, what holds the world in being. The Christian belief is that it is the will of God that holds the world in being.

… That shows us that God is patient and subtle, that God is prepared to create through process, unfolding process, rather than through just divine magic decree. … And when you come to think about it…if the nature of God is love, as Christians believe, then I think that is the way you would expect the God of love to create, not through just brute power, but by the unfolding of fruitful potentiality.

Is it reasonable that God’s method of creation would be an unfolding process such as evolution?

In other words, does an evolutionary process uphold God’s character as revealed in the scriptures? If so, how? If not, why not?

The Book of Genesis The second clip is a natural continuation from the clip on evolutionary creation. If the scientific evidence is correct and if God created through process, in a manner analogous to his working in time and space after creation, then we have to ask what the creation narrative in Genesis, especially Gen 1, is intending to convey. The clip from A Leap of Truth on the book of Genesis brings together thoughts and insights by John Walton, NT Wright, Nancey Murphy, Pete Enns, and more. You can find the clip and the transcript on the BioLogos site. I will highlight just a few pieces here.

Any attempt to understand the creation narrative in Genesis, especially Gen 1, requires careful examination of the intent of the text. We can’t simply translate Hebrew into English and expect to understand the text. We must also translate its cultural context, the intent and understanding of the text to the original writers and readers some three thousand years ago. A major theme in the clip is that the story of creation in Genesis is not a story of how things began, but is much deeper, dealing with why things exist, their function and purpose.

Dr. John Walton: We have to approach Genesis 1 for what it is. It is an ancient document. It is not a document that was written to us—we believe the Bible was written for us like it is for everyone of all times and places because it is God’s Word—but it was not written to us. It was not written in our language. It was not written with our culture in mind or our culture in view.

…People come to Scripture thinking that they need to integrate it with science and so, they want to either read science out of the Bible or they want to read science into the Bible. That is not the way to do it because inevitably you end up making the text say things that it never meant to the ancient audience.

This theme is continued by Nancey Murphy and Pete Enns who comment on the nature of origins stories in the ancient Near East (ANE) and the relationship between these ANE stories and the account we have in the Genesis. The importance is not the details of ANE cosmology, biology, or even origins. Rather the importance is in the contrast and in the theological message of Genesis. Dr. Enns makes a direct connection to Israel.

It’s Israel’s declaration that Yahweh is worthy of worship. It is a potent and counter-intuitive theological statement in the ancient world where people say, ‘That is totally different from anything we have ever seen.’

John Walton and N. T. Wright make the connection between creation and temple. The earth is God’s dwelling place, his office, and in this he places his image.

N. T. Wright: it is actually about when the good Creator God made the world, he made heaven and earth as the space in which he himself was going to dwell and put in humans into that construct as a way of both reflecting his own love into the world and drawing out the praise and glory from the world, back to himself.

… This world was made to be God’s abode, God’s home, God’s dwelling place. He shared it with us, and now he wants to rescue it and redeem it.

What is the context of Genesis and how can we translate this context into a framework we can understand today?

Is it possible that we have misunderstood the intent of Genesis One for millenia because of a disconnect between Gentile Christian context and the original writers and audience?

The ANE creation myths and the idea of temple as the dwelling place of God are concepts that would have been in the air and in the water … taken for granted by the original audience.

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you have comments please visit A Leap of Truth: Evolutionary Creation and Genesis at Jesus Creed.

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