Why these difficulties in the first place, Lord?

I am in the midst of an email discussion with a small group of Christians in another state who are beginning to consider how to integrate old earth and biological evolution into their Christian faith as they study the first chapters of Genesis together. They are asking me questions like “what have I come to believe about Adam?”, which I can deal with.

But they asked one interesting question that I have not been able to deal with: “Why these difficulties in the first place, Lord? Why did God choose to give his Word in such a way that would result in many, many of his sincere, godly, and well-intentioned followers foolish and embarrassingly mistaken? Could God not have chosen to communicate the creation event (and possibly other early Genesis material) in a different (though grand) way that did not ‘fool’ droves of his earnest children? . . . Not only does it seem like God hid (an aspect of) biblically-related truth from his own, but also ensured that his witnesses looked pretty dumb in the process. I’m just grieved by all this and don’t know how to deal with it.”

Any suggestions on how to respond or pointers to authors who have responded would be greatly appreciated.

Paul Bruggink

24 comments to Why these difficulties in the first place, Lord?

  • Peter Ruest

    Recently, I was asked by a mother and teacher in our church how she should explain the biblical creation account to her children at home and in school. She knows that I believe in both the bible and evolution  and wants to help the children dealing with the science-faith conflict rampant everywhere. My response has since grown to 13 pages, which I plan to soon put on my website http://www.aneste.ch. For the moment, this will be in German only, but I am going to translate it into English. I also intend to submit it as an article manuscript to PSCF.

    The only part I have in English for the moment is the abstract:

    The biblical creation report can be taken literally, as being divinely inspired, and can at the same time be harmonized with modern natural science including evolution of the universe, life, and humanity. As all languages are flexible and often ambiguous, one can, in this endeavor, abstain from reading either anachronistic scientific facts or ancient pagan myths into the biblical text. The key for this is found in the all-encompassing love of God who fully respects all humans as genuine personalities bearing responsibility. In place of an allegedly only-correct interpretation, compatibility of divine revelation with any experience-based theory of origin and function of the universe, the Earth, life, and humankind is here proposed. As an example, a possible scenario of harmonization with the scientific origin theories generally accepted today is sketched.

    Peter Ruest

  • Ide Trotter

    I can’t help but ask Peter what is the “experience-based theory of origin and function of …… life” that he is referring to.  Richard Dawkins, Ken Miller and other recognized experts on the evolution of life forms don’t seem to have ideas they find convincing.  Origin of life issues appear central to an eventual rational understanding and discussion of various theistic vs. naturalistic worldviews that this blog set out to address.

  • Sean Cordry

    I think that sooner or later you will run into the question: What is the Bible anyway?
    These sort of science vs. the bible questions arise only when we view the bible as something like an FAQ-for-Life that was divinely handed down to humanity somehow.  Yes, the Bible is divinely inspired, but it was written by people who were trying to understand God themselves and their experiences with Him.  They see the world and interpret their experiences through the lens of their own culture.
    That being said, the Bible often reflects the cultural norms and understandings of the times.  (For example, Paul does not condemn slavery, but advises slaves to behave.)  Numerous explanations of physical phenomena can be found in the old testament — explanations that we know to be false.  Job 38 contains many: water jars in heaven, storehouses of snow, the earth having a physical foundation, God having to hold back the sea so that it won’t flood the land.  The prophet Ezekiel (chpt 1) sees some strange things, including God sitting on his throne above the “expanse,” which was thought to be the great dome separating “the heavens” from “the earth.”  One final weird one: in Exodus 24 Moses and some others go up Mt. Sinai and see God, who is standing on a great “pavement of sapphire.”   (Another reference to the dome — the expanse.)
    Anyway… if you haven’t already gotten to the question of the Bible is, you will soon.  Is it the words of God?  Or does it contain the Word of God?
    I recommend this book by John Walton:  http://www.amazon.com/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology/dp/0830837043/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268923528&sr=8-1

  • Peter Ruest

    By “experience-based theory of origin and function of…” I denote any such theory that people of a given culture and time base on their observations in nature or experiences they made, that can be confirmed by themselves or any of their contemporaries. It doesn’t imply such theories or world-views are factually correct. I don’t deny the scientific competence of Richard Dawkins but refuse his atheistic conclusions. These are not experience-based and are disputed by many scientifically competent contemporaries.

  • Ide Trotter

    Thanks Peter, I would not have thought of what you describe as “experience” based theories.   Perhaps I was mistakenly thinking you meant fact based.  Personally I would consider them at best hopeful speculations or just so stories.

  • Mervin Bitikofer

    Paul, I just finished reading a book that I think may be an excellent, and perhaps gentle bridge for people (especially YECs) who are struggling with such transitions.  And that is Dembski’s “End of Christianity” (2009)  I know that he hasn’t exactly inspired admiration in these corners, and some of his main points in this work will still remain untenable to TEs, of course.  BUT, he writes as somebody who has much sympathy for (and agreement with) the YEC concern about death before the “fall”, and he attempts to give a coherent (and I think somewhat fruitful) answer to that question.  His words towards TEs at various points are not accompanied by any dismissive vitriol, and despite the persisting disagreement between Dembski and TEs, I still happily recommend this book.  It is much heavier on theology and doesn’t delve into ID issues at all.   He may connect with YECs in a way that most of us here may not be able to match.  I would be glad to say more, except I should probably wait and see if a whole section on our ASA voices site somewhere here is already devoted to discussing that book.   For some reason I seem organizationally challenged trying to navigate around our forum here.

  • George Murphy

    The kind of “connection” that should be made with YECs is to show them – as politely & sensitively as possible – that the idea of “no death before the fall”  is misguided.  To begin with, there is nothing in scripture that even suggests that non-human animals were originally created immortal.   There is also no biblical support for the notion that God created a perfect world in the beginning:  The picture from Gen.1 onward is of a creation which God intended to develop in the course of time.  & belief in a God who himself is willing to experience death blunts the force of any argument that God wouldn’t create humans as mortals.  3 strikes & you’re out.  Nothing at all will be gained by trying to reach some kind of compromise on this – unless the goal is political rather than theological.

  • Mervin Bitikofer

    Dembski doesn’t make the claims in the way you suggest above, at least not in this recent work of his.  I know this is off-track for this thread’s subjects and Paul’s posted inquiries.  But I’ll go ahead and say a bit more here until either I figure out how to start a new post category of my own–if users have that privilege,  or discover that somewhere on this forum it’s already been done.
    Dembski pretty much acknowledges that yes, there was death occurring chronologically before the fall, but he makes much use of the two Greek words for time: “chronos” (which matches our current use of the word ‘time’) and “kairos” which is more of a purpose driven (especially regarding divine purpose) use of the word.  He uses this to differentiate between a creation account that tells us about things in the “kairos” sense –each element being in the fullness of God’s time; and our separate attempt to render Genesis one (wrongly, as Dembski himself states) in chronological time.  Note –he is not even trying to preserve literal sequence but at greater age as an OE would, he distinguishes his views from that as well.  But he does still use the word ‘literal’ to describe his own stand, with it being in the ‘kairological’ sense (my own twist on that word).    And here is what many here will still find so untenable:  He still ties evil (including the ‘natural evils’) back to being a consequence of the original (and all) human sin.  He simply gets around the chronological challenge of this by stating that God is outside time, and that he can build in (or allow) consequences to our future actions anywhere he wishes.  Dembski does not follow in the vein of trying to ‘absolve’ God of all responsibility for evil —he simply states that no matter how you slice or dice it, nobody gets around that theodicy problem easily regardless of stances on evolution.  But enough of this here.
    Let me just add a parting thought, that while you, George, or others may rightly not be satisfied until all other have come around 100%  to what you see as ‘most correct’ or ‘most supported’, I still note progress when somebody with obvious YEC sympathies openly acknowledges the scientific evidence for immense age, AND for pre-existing death and even common-descent.  It means they are wrestling with important scientific assertions and not dismissing them.  (& I’m not referring to Dembski himself as I say this, but potential readers of his book, rather.)

  • George Murphy

    I agree that some progress is made if a YEC comes to appreciate scientific evidence for the points you mention.  But in order really to do the job with most YECs the theological issues have to be dealt with.  That means looking at what the Bible really says and doesn’t say.  In the latter category is absence of animal death before human sin & “perfection” of God’s original creation.

    Your description of Dembski’s approach makes it sound at least somewhat plausible but I don’t know if it’s terribly useful.  OK, God did create a world in which there would be “natural evil” before humans appeared, supposedly because he knew that humans would sin.  Is that it?  How do we know this?  Scripture doesn’t tell us that so apparently we’re guessing what was in God’s mind – a dubious procedure.
    We needn’t pursue this further but it isn’t that far removed from Paul’s original concern.  YECs continue to insist on bad science to back up their bad theology because they don’t think that the Holy Spirit could have used now-outdated science as a vehicle for theological truth.  On that they’re wrong – see my post above on kenosis & accomodation.

  • Paul Bruggink

    I want to thank all of the people who have submitted responses to my question. I will be passing all of them to my email friends who originally asked the question that I posted.

    In addition to the comments here on ASA Voices, SEVERAL people commented directly to me because their attempts to post their comments directly onto ASA Voices were unsuccessful despite attempting to follow the instructions.  Here is one of the responses that came to me directly (posted with the writer’s permission):

    “I agree with almost all of the above (e.g. the bible is not a scientific document, it spoke in the idiom of the day).  I have one other thought:  We are now realizing that God ( at least regarding creation) acted in  “understandable” ways which is one of the  greatest miracles of all.  Won’t we increasingly realize that the scriptures were given to us by God also in “understandable” ways poising again the  persistent question to the investigator (including those involved in biblical critical analysis) :  How did God do it?  or How was it done if there is no God.  I believe if we believe in kenosis and God’s  loving gift of freedom, this opposing quandary will never be eliminated  until we see “face to face’.”
    Paul H. Lange, M.D. F.A.C.S.
    Pritt Chair in Prostate Cancer Research,
    Professor, Department of Urology
    Director, Institute of Prostate Cancer Research
    University  of Washington School of Medicine and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

March 2010
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