some assumptions on creation and text

May 8, 2009

Creation and evolution. How these two ever got to become two opposing extremes within the church is a study which historians of the present and future really need to help us with. But now we have it. TGIF had one of it’s biggest meetings I’ve seen this morning, listening to Dr Hennie Mouton, creationist, enigineer, elder in the Dutch Reformed Church (last time I heard), and regular contributer to our church newspaper (in the form of letters of critique). The only other time I’ve seen such a large crowd was for the Christian/Atheist conversation between my two friends Roger and Kevin. The number of people attending says something of the hot topics in our society (western, white, post-apartheid, educated etc).

The questions afterwords mostly seemed to come from those who agree, either fully or to an extend, with a little bit of critique. So, this is some of my assumptions on creation and reading texts. Now, I’m not a scientists, so I’ll skip the science, there are others much more capable on those topics. I’ll stick to the theology and the text.

  • The authors of the Bible was very smart people. Don’t patronize them. They were at least as smart as you, maybe smarter.
  • The Bible  was written within time for it’s own time. It contains the science, theology, history and philosophy of it’s day. In short, it’s not a simple spiritual text, but addressed the whole worldview of it’s day, and challenges it with the story of the creator God to become part of the worldview.
  • The Bible has the potential of being important for our day. Challenging us in our time on some extremely needed issues.
  • It was not intended as a science book, or a history book. Both these genres appeared over the last couple of hundred years.
  • The Bible is in tension with itself, showing development and growth in the reflection on God (theology) over ages.
  • The “simple spiritual being, whom we call God” (Belgic Confession), that the people of the Old Testament called Jahweh, created.

There is a very important distinction between literalism and fundamentalism. Important for this discussion. See video below.


27 Responses to “some assumptions on creation and text”

  1. dionisyusus Says:

    Dr John Dominic Crossan is really fantastic, read many of his books. have a great day !

  2. Gert Marincowitz Says:

    I also attended the TGIF talk. Initially I was quite frustrated when I read the TGIF email, asking the question: is it worthwile to get up that early to listen to a talk promoting creationism (which I haven’t even embraced at the height of my conservative-evangelical convictions, let alone now after studies in Bible interpretation)? Wouldn’t I legitimise such craziness (in a 21st-century context) by being part of a friendly audience?

    I have already attended a talk from another SA creationist at TGIF in 2007 (can’t remember the presenter’s name), even bought a book about “Genesis as History” at the guy’s bookstall during a similar talk at a Dopper kerk near my home in 2006. That particular 2006 Gautent talk tour has also been advertised by TGIF, at that time this creationist was also talking at the Midrand congregation of my (evangelical) denomination. Then there was UP microbiology prof Eugene Cloete’s talk defending intelligent design (ID) at TGIF (in 2006, if I remember correctly).

    At all these occasions the audiences have been generally uncritical and not questioning creationism or ID as such, except for one renegade person at each creationist talk. At the previous creationist’s TGIF talk, dr Louw Alberts (a prominent Christian (retired) scientist, apparently also a founding member of the NG Kerk’s Evangeliese Inisiatief and previous TGIF speaker) was the renegade audience member, despite his conservative Reformed credentials and the speaker’s flattering comments about how dr. Alberts inspired him as a Christian scientist. Dr Alberts friendly implied that rejecting the atheism promoted by scientists such as Dawkins does not automatically translate into accepting a six-day creation. He pointed out that references to the beginning and end of a day applied to all of creation does not make sense given our knowledge that a day in one region is a night in another (I am stating this very clumsily! alas, I am not a scientist.)

    Both dr Alberts and the unknown renegade audience member during the Dopper church talk pointed to scientific difficulties with the six-day creation account. But Cobus’ comments during dr Mouton’s talk on Friday was the first anti-creationist critique from an audience member pointing to what I believe is the core assumption behind creationism (and to a lesser extent intelligent design): a particular view on the nature and authority of the Bible.

    My denomination and TGIF does not promote a rigid doctrine (article of faith) on creationism or intelligent design. But the conservative-evangelical assumptions that my denomination (and many of the evangelical supporters of TGIF) hold about the Bible, results in most members of my denomination (and many people attending TGIF) to embrace some version of either creationism or intelligent design. Thus, the friendly and uncritical audiences at TGIF.

    So thanks for that comment, Cobus, I was wondering whether I should make a similar comment but unsure of what to say. One of the problems is that, like Cobus, I don’t have the scientific background to challenge the pseudo-scientific “results” of creationists, this I leave to people like dr Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and author of “The Language of God”. But the problem with dr Collins is that he is definitely not an expert on theology/philosophy/hermeneutics. He essentially quotes uncritically from C.S. Lewis (to make the case for God) and from Augustine (as an implicit critique of creationism). In the film “Religulous”, it is also clear that he is not entirely comfortable answering obnoxious questions from an extreme sceptic about the Bible’s origins or historical reliability.

    The same can probably be said about a female scientist (geneticist) in my denomination who actually accepts evolution and even defended her Genesis-and-evolution view at TGIF and at my church in a series on Christianity and science that also included separate talks by prof Cloete and dr David Seccombe, the latter two being sceptical of evolution. I couln’t attend her talks but have seen her presentation and it seems to draw strongly from the above book by dr Collins. So once again, good science (perhaps) but probably not very good biblical exegesis.

    In this regard, dr Mouton and the authors of “Genesis as History” have a good point in quoting James Barr’s statement that no single OT expert (to Barr’s knowledge) interprets the six days of Genesis as undefined periods of time. Unisa theologian Sakkie Spangenberg agrees and seems to suggest that creationists have a better understanding of the conflicts between Genesis and evolutionary science than do evolution-and-Genesis Christians such as dr. Collins. In fact, the previous creationist speaker at TGIF quoted a statement from Spangenberg that evolution challenges Christian theology (i.e. not only the six-day interpretation of Genesis).

    In a similar vein, Scott McKnight (at today’s talk at UP on conversion and apostasy) noted the conflict between the Genesis account of death only entering creation after (and as a result of) the sin of Adam and Eve, and the evolution account of death being a natural part of life.

    If I understand correctly, UP theologian Julian Muller seems to imply that evolution and Christian theology can coexist if the latter embraces panentheism (also supported by NT scholar Marcus Borg). The author Nikos Kazantzakis developed an alternative Christology and soteriology in his work that incorporates evolution (among Buddhism and other non-Christian sources). But are these proper solutions? Certainly these post-evolution theologies are strongly rejected by theologians defending Christian orthodoxy (including open-minded, non-fundamentalist theologians such as NT Wright who probably acccept evolutionary science – cf Wright’s “Simply Christian”).

    The point that I am trying to make is that creationists (however ridiculous their “scientific” enterprise seems to be) do raise important points about the potential conflict between reading Genesis and observing science. As McKnight (and Cobus in his question to McKnight) indicated today, the reason for apostasy from Christian faith “because of science” is not really because of science but rather due to a particular rigid view of interpreting Genesis. But simply allowing for a more flexible interpretation of Genesis (and taking seriously Cobus’ TGIF comments on the history of Bible interpretation)is not necessarily going to resolve this conflict between evolution and Genesis.

    Let me conclude by giving an example of divergent interpretations of how to deal with this conflict. Both the previous TGIF speaker and McKnight mentioned the story of Billy Graham’s erstwhile evangelistic youth worker, who eventually abandoned the Christian faith and before his death wrote a book explaining the reasons for his decision. This guy had questions which Graham could not answer. On this, both mr creationist and McKnight are agreed.

    But the former argues that Graham did not develop a (creationist) theory consistent with the whole Bible including Genesis; instead he apparently told his friend not to worry too much about issues (such as creationism v/s evolution) that in Graham’s view were marginal to the essence of the gospel, namely salvation through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. According to this interpretation, Graham may even have been comfortable with the Genesis-and-evolution promoted by the likes of dr Collins – as long as they accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

    By contrast, McKnight seems to argue that Graham had a more fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture, saying something to the extent of: “if I have to choose between science and the Bible, I choose the Bible”. In McKnight’s view, Graham would not have helped his friend to find answers to his questions by developing and defending a creationist model/theology – quite the opposite! Graham’s problem according to McKnight (if I understand him correctly) was an inability to interpret the Bible anew in a post-Enlightenment (modern scientific) era.

    I tend to agree with McKnight. But I really cannot see how I am going to convince many of the people in my church and denomination to allow a freer conversation on these issues and take the questions pointed out by McKnight seriously, not by developing a creationist or ID model (bad science), or by simply reinterpreting the days of Genesis allegorically as indeterminate periods (bad exegesis), but by asking the more difficult questions: Do our conservative-evangelical hermeneutics and assumptions about the Bible still deal faithfully with what we know today about reality (including science) and the history of the Bible’s interpretation?

  3. cobus Says:

    Thanx for the comment Gert. But please keep them shorter than the post, and on the topic of the post. I might post on McKnight’s lecture later, maybe some comments will be in order there?

  4. Here is a more complete quote of the part of the Belgic confession Cobus referred to:

    We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God — eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.

    This is really giving quite a different impression than Cobus’ shortened quote does. In fact I would be very thankful if our young ministers can at least confess that they believe this full quotation.

    It’s also interesting to see so many “scientific” declarations from someone (Gert) who admits that he is not a scientist.

  5. cobus Says:

    Hennie, please note that my very next post used the complete text of article 1 of the Belgic Confession. So I do hope that the comment wasn’t an insinuation that I don’t confess this, or that I purposely used only a few words to change the meaning, because that would be totally unfounded.

  6. This confession of yours is great to hear Cobus and if you can expand your post above to include the whole quote, you may even remove my reply completely if you want to. No, I was not insinuating, but I was wondering.

  7. This dr John Dominic Crossan is the same guy who said something like “if it is true that God the Father allowed his Son Jesus Christ to suffer and die such a horrible death as on the cross, He should have been accused of transcendental child abuse.” Please correct my quoting from memory if you have the full quote.
    If this is more or less what he said, then according to his definition of a fundamentalist, I am one regarding this aspect of Jesus Christ being the one and only Saviour.
    And Cobus I certainly hope you are one too regarding this.
    Obviously Crossan’s definitions of literalism and fundamentalism must be expanded to make provision for different aspects or matters.

  8. More on Crossan, from the Online Encyclopaedia Britannica:
    “Jesus was not born of a virgin, not born of David’s lineage, not born in Bethlehem,” and “there was no stable, no shepherds, no star, no Magi, no massacre of the infants, and no flight into Egypt.” These assertions were made not by a fire-breathing atheist but by John Dominic Crossan, a bookish Roman Catholic teaching biblical studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

  9. dionisyusus Says:

    Hello, Yes the point is that with scholar work, as with Crossan, is to get at the truth. and there is a lot of half truths in the bible, and all humans should look for the truth in whatever they do(hopefully).

  10. cobus Says:

    Quoting from Crossan as a primary source would be more credible in an argument I think. Also, if you have a problem with Crossan’s argument on the difference between literalism and fundamentalism argue that! The comments point to a definite lack of understanding Crossan’s argument in the video as well as his academic work.

  11. dionisyusus Says:

    Yes quite agree cobus ! all sources come from the Q ! The new scholarship to me is astounding. have a great day all.

  12. Cobus, you did not answer my question:
    Do you believe in Jesus Christ as the One and only Saviour?
    And if so, are you not a fundamentalist in Crossan’s eyes too?
    Furthermore, I did explain how Crossan’s definitions are falling short.

  13. Hugo Says:

    I quite like Crossan’s definitions, they’ll be guiding my own definitions in future. (I’m e.g. contemplating how to distinguish between a fundamentalist atheist, and an atheist more accepting of plurality.)

    Furthermore, I did explain how Crossan’s definitions are falling short.

    I don’t know about that (your explanation)… Here’s how I see it: Take Genesis. You can read it literally, or you can read it non-literally. Someone with a non-literal reading, you can find the same meaning, draw the same conclusions, have the same guidance in your life. The literalist can accept the diversity in interpretation, and thereby not be a fundamentalist. Or the literalist could say: “I have the right interpretation, and only mine is right. Anyone that differs from my opinion on the matter, is not a Christian, or in other words, shall burn in hell for accepting science, for accepting, at face value, the evidence they see in creation”… (spinning it a bit here to represent how such a stance is perceived). In this latter case, the literalist would be considered a fundamentalist by Crossan’s definitions. And I would hope a pastor, whose job it is to care for the flock in its diversity, should not be condemning people to hell for being interested in the natural sciences.

    Naturally we are all fundamentalistic about certain things. Every single one of us has some fundamentals. A definition of a word by which it describes everyone, makes it something of a worthless word, not so?

  14. Exactly Hugo, your last paragraph is pointing to the insufficiency of Crossan’s definitions. Will he regard anyone with any fundamentals as fundamentalistic or has it only to do with certain fundamentals? He did not clarify this in the short video.

    But I am still waiting for Cobus’ answer on this:
    Do you believe in Jesus Christ as the One and only Saviour?
    And if so, are you not a fundamentalist in Crossan’s eyes too?

  15. Hugo Says:

    No, sorry Hennie, I think we’re still missing one another here.

    Analogy: suppose I’m a “mountain lover”. I love the outdoors, getting out in nature, and I believe it is fundamentally about getting away from civilisation. So as fundamental, I hold the desire to be disconnected from civilisation. No cellphone receiving sms’s, no cable car and restaurant at the top. I can hold this dear, as a fundamental. And I can say that anyone else that does not hold the same fundamentals, is not a true mountain lover. Or, I can say, they do things differently, but recognise that they do share my passion for mountains and the outdoors.

    On to Christianity then. Consider Orthodox Christianity. From how a Greek Orthodox friend explained it to me, they maintained a continuous tradition, staying true to the text and the body of believers’ consensus. The Catholic church veered off. And then Protestants had their schism with the Catholics, and reinvented the faith as best they could, based on the text. But they lacked the continuity of tradition with regards to how this text is to be interpreted and lived. So an Orthodox friend could then be a fundamentalist, and say that any Catholic or Protestant is not a true Christian, are not worthy followers of Christ, only the Orthodox are. Or, they could be more relationally inclusive, and recognise that while they have disagreements about some fundamentals, in their diversity, everyone is honestly trying to follow Jesus as best they can.

    On to my understanding of Jesus’ teachings. If I were a fundamentalist about my fundamentals, the things I hold dear and I feel is the heart of Jesus’ example, I could say that anyone that is not inclusivist in their approach, is not a Christian. Those that engage in witch-hunts trying to out other Christians as “not good enough”, as lacking the doctrinal purity, may seem, from my perspective and with my fundamentals, to be our contemporary Pharisees. I could say to their face, “you are not a Christian”, based on my understanding and fundamentals of what Christianity is about. (Consider Jesus’ challenge to the abusive purity code of his time, anyone that doesn’t live the same challenges to contemporary abusive purity codes is “not a true follower of Jesus”.) But I’m not a fundamentalist, so I recognise we all try our best, even if we disagree about the fundamentals. For me, to say to a Christian “you are not a Christian”, is to call him “raka!” Or for that matter, the same as calling someone kaffir. (Original meaning: non-believer.) Fundamentally, I feel doing this is un-Christian, so I don’t do it. (Interesting paradox, isn’t it? Where strongly criticising non-Christian behaviour in a certain way, is non-Christian behaviour in itself.) The relationally-softer approach would be to say “that seems to be to be un-Christian behaviour on your part”, as a challenge to improve, with the understanding and acceptance that you are a Christian, which means to follow Jesus even if you occasionally stumble.

    Consider this post, by someone that lost their faith while studying at Wheaton College: the single worst thing about Christians — do you feel Lily has a point?

    Sorry this comment became a bit long, Cobus. I’m still hoping that we can find some agreement about the usefulness of Crossan’s definitions.

    For the record, I’m not a Christian, I’m at most someone trying his best to follow Jesus. Would that be good enough for you? Would that be good enough for God or for Jesus? Whose place is it to judge me?

    “Raka!” “Kaffir!” “You are not a Christian!”

  16. (Joh 14:6) Jesus said to him, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
    (Joh 3:16) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    (Joh 3:17) For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
    (Joh 3:18) The one believing into Him is not condemned; but the one not believing has already been condemned, for he has not believed into the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    If someone says that he does not believe in Jesus Christ as his Saviour, the verses above give me the right and the responsibility to believe he is unsaved. I don’t judge him in the sense that I think he cannot come to belief in Christ in future, but I make that temporary judgement with the possible aim, if I get the opportunity, of trying to lead him to faith in Christ. (True faith comes from God only, but He chooses people to be instrumental in bringing it about.) If you consider me then to be a fundamentalist, you are welcome, but of course grouping me with many others who are considered fundamentalists would be wrong.

  17. Hugo Says:

    Are you accepting of diversity with regards to how Genesis is interpreted? (I know you are a creationist, that you think that is the correct interpretation, but I don’t know what your relational strategy is towards people that differ from you, that is what I’m asking.)

  18. Taking Genesis as true history is the only correct way, but that is not the saving faith. Believing in Jesus Christ as your one and only Saviour is. Therefore saved Christians with different views of Genesis are found.

  19. Hugo Says:

    Taking Genesis as true history is the only correct way


    So… what is important to you in your community? That people are “saved”, I assume, so I’ll also assume you’re okay with the presence, participation and membership of people that accept what science has discovered? Namely, people that accept geology, the age of the universe and the planet as billions of years, evolution as fact, and “know” that there couldn’t have been a global flood? You (very strongly) believe they are wrong and misguided, but they are still welcome in your community, am I right?

  20. […] beplan het nie”. A.g.v ‘n klompie gesprekke en ervarings oor die afgelope 2 weke (o.a. ‘n TGIF byeenkoms  en lesing deur Scot McKnight) het ek besluit om oor Genesis 1 te preek vanaand. Hierdie teks is […]

  21. The most important thing is that people are saved, yes. The problem with not believing Genesis as it is written, is that it can be a hindrance to people coming to true faith in Jesus Christ. There are numerous examples of this.
    It is also important that proper science is practised. Go and check www_creationontheweb_com and/or read my book “Skepping & Evolusie – onversoenbaar!” to see why I believe that evolution is bad science and creationism is far better science. Evolution is not only refuted from the Bible but also from science.

  22. Hugo Says:

    I’m sorry, but I believe that is utter nonsense. I don’t want to get involved in that discussion.

  23. Hugo Says:

    (I’m talking about the latter bit there. “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” etc. But like I said, I’m not interested in that discussion right now.)

  24. Hugo Says:

    More time available here now – public holiday (ascension day).

    The problem with not believing Genesis as it is written, is that it can be a hindrance to people coming to true faith in Jesus Christ. There are numerous examples of this.

    Preaching that Genesis needs to be taken literally is also a hindrance for many. There are numerous examples of this too. But both of these are “arguments from consequences”, a logical fallacy. So if people “losing or finding their way” is your biggest concern, you should be open to both literal and non-literal interpretations.

    Your book naturally helps those that want to take the literal route. Those that think more critically and scientifically, are likely to recognise many mistakes in your book, which will drive them away. (I’ve taken a look at your first chapter. Most of the mistakes I’ve spotted are well known and common amongst creationists. People looking at both sides will have issues with it.)

    Let me explain what I believe is nonsense:

    It is also important that proper science is practised.

    I certainly agree with this.

    Go and check www_creationontheweb_com

    I’ve spent much time on that site, and it certainly doesn’t practise proper science.

    and/or read my book “Skepping & Evolusie – onversoenbaar!” to see why I believe that evolution is bad science and creationism is far better science.

    I can agree with that, in the sense that the book and the site will explain why *you believe* creationism is better science than real science. I have no issues with that statement as it stands. I just believe that what you believe is wrong. 😉 (And I have very good reasons for that.)

    Evolution is not only refuted from the Bible

    Even that I won’t directly take issue with, though I don’t take the lack of contemporary science in the Bible as a refutation… this is what I take issue with:

    … but also from science.

    That is nonsense. The way creationists usually fool people into believing this, is through the falsehoods known as “quote mining”. They take the words of scientists out of context to make it sound like they’re saying something they are not saying. Unless you mean to use “refuted” in a much softer way than I’m used to. (“refute – prove to be false or incorrect” -> science most certainly doesn’t refute evolution in that sense!)

    One last thought, from your words:

    Ek het my eie voorveronderstelling natuurlik glad nie probeer wegsteek in my beskrywing van bogenoemde twee vertolkingsmoontlikhede nie. Na my mening is veronderstellings nie verkeerd nie, maar mens moet bereid wees om hulle te erken.

    There you are referring to science. But that paragraph might just as well refer to Biblical interpretation. I’m wondering, are you prepared to acknowledge your biases and presuppositions with regards to Biblical interpretation too?

  25. Gert Marincowitz Says:

    This last paragraph about presuppositions w.r.t. Bible interpretation links with my own comments elsewhere on the subject (post titled “Don’t you dare presume that I have presuppositions”):

    In particular, see the following extract from my post (quotations from Mark Noll’s book “Beyond Faith and Criticism: Evangelicals, Scholarship, and the Bible in America”):
    >>> Noll points out that “American evangelicals also continue to draw attention to the presuppositions of modern critical scholars, but more general consideration of how convictions, whether modernistic or evangelical, affect understanding [of the Bible] are in short supply” (p. 135).

    >>>>So many evangelicals have used postmodern thinking on presuppositions and the social nature of science to question the alleged objective, factual nature of evolution (just a theory or a paradigm/fad that is being enforced by the scientific community, with discrimination in terms of funding, publication, etc. being applied against creationists or intelligent design (ID) scientists) … But little attention is given to the extrabiblical assumptions (e.g. early modernism, Scottish Enlightenment) that sometimes inform their own thinking. >>>

    Yes, I am not a scientist. But so, neither are many of the creationists and ID advocates making strong scientific pronouncements, from the pulpit or at other Christian gatherings (a notable exception is prof Eugene Cloete who does however accept some aspects of evolution). Some are pastors and/or theologians. Others are engineers. Some of them may boast a bachelors or doctorate in a (natural) science discipline but have produced little if any original scientific research, particularly in any field of biology. Even one of the main ID biologists are criticized by other biologists for not taking account of the latest relevant biological research in the updated edition of his book “Darwin’s black box” (this criticism was made by an evangelical Christian biologist Peter Falk), etc. One of the other oft-quoted major ID proponents is a legal – not biological – expert.

    Just the following stupid questions from a non-scientist:
    If the scientific evidence does so strongly favour six-day creationism, then why do evangelical Christian apologist-scientists such as drs. Louw Alberts and Francis Collins not embrace such a theory?
    Some creationists have strongly criticised ID advocates for not embracing the biblical literalism of the former (e.g. in the book “Genesis as History”), and ID is also supported by some non-literalists, e.g. Roman Catholics and atheists (or agnostics?). In contrast, creationists (as dr Hennie Mouton has also said) start from the assumption that the Bible provides scientific information about the creation’s origins and then proceeds to find scientific data that in their view support their hypotheses (that are rooted in this assumption). Why are creationists such as dr Mouton flexible enough to acknowledge the contributions of non-literalist (and even in some cases, non-Christian) ID advocates but so dismissive towards the work of non-literalist Christian scientists embracing creation-and-evolution?

  26. Because of the strengths or weaknesses of their arguments.

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