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Different understandings of origins?

Published: 2 October 2021 (GMT+10)
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Not all the feedback we get from those who disagree with us is hostile. Billy N. writes in actually looking for how we would respond to his perspectives on origins. CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds.

Dear Billy,

Thanks for writing in, and for your friendly engagement. It’s always highly appreciated when those who disagree with us do so respectfully, as you have done. I trust that my response will be taken in the same spirit. I have coloured your comments red, and interspersed my responses in black.

Since God used miracles in special revelation, it gives us reason to think He would do something similar in general revelation.,

My name is Billy N., I’m currently living in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was an ex-Buddhist but I’m now converting to Christianity. Graduated with a degree in Chemistry, I believed that it was hard for human beings to evolve from a prebiotic soup and how molecules and evolution could have given rise to morality, love, reasonings and other immaterial objects.

On this, we agree.

That led me to an intellectual journey to Christianity and now I want to defend the faith using scientific knowledge that I have learnt in school as well as historical reliability of Scriptures.

An honourable goal.

I believe that CMI and I worship the same God, the Christian Triune God but we just have a different understanding of how He created Heavens and the Earth, and this should not cause the division among us, as we can still have dialogue about this.

We clearly believe in the same God. Usually the disagreement in the origins debate within the church doesn’t directly impinge on the nature, personhood, and attributes of God. Sadly, it can (see Templeton Prize goes to panentheistic Darwinist, Process theism, and Did God create an ‘open’ universe?), but it doesn’t have to.

CMI refuted evolution as a mechanism for God’s creation but I beg to differ.

Of course, we are not the only Christians who think evolution is not the method God used to create different kinds of life. Many old earth creationists agree with us on this point (see New book offers comprehensive critique of theistic evolution).

I would like to start with this verse, Isaiah 55:9 “For as Heavens are higher than the Earth, so My ways are higher than your way, My thoughts than your thoughts”. This verse led me to believe that we cannot simply use our understanding of how we create stuff to make predictions about how God created stuff.

But is that a good application of Isaiah 55:9? In context, it’s meant to give comfort to the reader that God can set things right even when everything seems bad. It gives surety to God’s prophetic promises through Isaiah. Basically, God is bigger than our circumstances, and can do amazing things even when we can’t see how. But the key in Isaiah 55 is that God has declared what He will do for Israel. God didn’t leave it mysterious. He will do what he said He will do. So, if anything, the appropriate way to apply Isaiah 55:9 would be to believe God when He tells us about his mighty deeds, whether past, present, or future. If anything, it should push us to take Genesis 1 and Exodus 20 at their word, since that’s what God said He did.

Dr. John Polkinghorne said and I quote “God didn’t produce the ready-made world. The Creator has done something clever than this, making a world able to make itself”

And we disagree. There are scant indications that a new creature with new systems and features can be derived stepwise from another without input from an external, intelligent agent (see this series that argues Species were designed to change: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

God’s wisdom and creativity are beyond us so if He used evolution, that will only glorify Him much much more.

It’s a common and appealing assumption, but I think it’s wrong. Obviously, a piece of technology that needs less maintenance is generally more impressive. And it’s attractive to analogize this principle to the creation as a whole. But I think the analogy falls apart when applied to the God-world relation.

For a start, the Scriptures make plain that God not only created the world, but also constantly sustains it in being (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3). Creation is not like a clock God wound up at the beginning and left to run on its own power. It’s not that independent of God. It’s more like a song sung by a singer—if the singer stops singing, the song stops.

Moreover, special revelation doesn’t work that way, so why should we expect general revelation to work that way? Much of special revelation occurred through the ancient Israelite tabernacle/temple cultus—a feature of ordinary providence. God didn’t need to use miracles all the time to reveal himself specially. However, miracles were a crucial feature of God specially revealing himself—the 10 plagues of Egypt and the Exodus, the first crossing of the Jordan under Joshua, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha—and of course Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. The miracles generally served to authenticate the message that accompanied them, or else they were themselves the salvific acts (e.g. the Red Sea crossing and Jesus’ resurrection). Either way, at the very least God thought it best to reveal himself specially in part through miracles, and at most they were necessary (Deism and divine revelation).

Since God used miracles in special revelation, it gives us reason to think He would do something similar in general revelation. After all, it would be consistent. Plus, it would provide concrete evidence that nature is not self-sufficient. If certain types of things within nature can’t spontaneously arise from within nature just from the right circumstances and enough time, then clearly we can’t explain everything within nature simply by appealing to nature. It shows that nature is not self-sufficient. It forces us to look beyond nature for an answer. Is there anything in creation that looks like that? Biology. The panoply of creatures we see all around us strongly point to a designing intelligence responsible for them (Design: just a trick of the mind?). Nothing else in all creation testifies as clearly against the self-sufficiency of nature as biology.

But evolution directly targets this. It tries to explain creatures in a completely ‘within nature’ fashion. Indeed, it was the last aspect within nature to receive a widely accepted ‘within nature’ explanation in the history of science. This shouldn’t surprise us, since it’s the clearest evidence that ‘within nature’ explanations don’t always suffice to explain things within nature.

And what was the result of the wide acceptance of evolution? I think Richard Dawkins was basically right in seeing evolution as a gateway to atheism: “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Or, at least Darwin’s contribution historically led society away from God rather than toward Him. But why? Think about the principle of ‘methodological naturalism’: natural causes are all we should invoke to explain phenomena and events in nature. If we insist on this rule, we have conditions that make it easier to believe we don’t need to look beyond nature for any explanations. After all, if we only need appeal to natural causes to explain things within nature, why look for any explanations beyond nature? Because nature itself needs an explanation? But does it need an external explanation? If natural causes suffice to explain everything within nature, perhaps nature as a whole also has the reason for its existence within itself. At the very least, I think it becomes very easy to be skeptical of any notion that nature has an external explanation, even if we can’t know whether it does or not. In basic terms, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, agnostic, or skeptic of God. And, with the wide acceptance of evolution, methodological naturalism replaced belief in a divine Creator as the assumption by which the Western academy organized its knowledge.1 With evolution putting methodological naturalism at the helm of the West’s plausibility structure, Christianity and theism were cast aside as irrational to believe (Scientism and secularism … and Scripture?).

Of course, from Asa Gray to Dennis Venema, theistic evolutionists have been trying to make this ‘clockwork universe’ argument work. Yet society remains secular in part because of its commitment to evolution. Dawkins was right, after all: Darwin made it possible to be (or, at least, feel like one is) an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

Now don’t get me wrong, I rejected the prebiotic soup theory because given the condition of the early earth (molten magma and oxidizing atmosphere) just simply couldn’t sustain such a so-called soup. The thermal vent hypothesis proposes that energy supplied by these thermal vents could drive a synthesis of more complex molecules, but at the same time thermal vents also created radical peroxides which would destroy any formed biomolecules, if they were formed. For any reactions to occur, concentration is one of the main factors, and I don’t think given billions of years these chemicals could have accumulated and hooked together through condensations to make any meaningful sequences. Many experiments in the lab regarding the origin of life are illogical since an artifactual process can’t be followed by a natural conclusion.

You voice the problems with abiogenesis really well. It would seem we’re on the same page as regards the origin of life. God needed to create the first life for evolution to even be possible. However, I would classify that as a species of creationism or intelligent design. Why? Nature wasn’t sufficient to produce life—intelligent input was required.

My own speculation is that God created an environment sustainable to the first cell and then He allowed that cell to differentiate and finally gave rise to different kinds of animals and plants, off [sic] course with His divine involvement along the way.

OK, but what sort of divine involvement? To put it as simply as I can: is your understanding of evolution from the LUCA (last universal common ancestor) empirically identical to that of atheistic scientists? I know there are different accounts of evolutionary mechanisms, but could you agree with e.g. Michael Lynch, Richard Dawkins, Nick Lane, or Sean Carroll—secular evolutionary theorists that don’t appeal to any external intelligence to explain any of the diversity throughout the history of life? If so, then natural causes sufficed to produce all the diversity of life throughout history (at least, until we started tinkering with some genomes).

I think I essentially am a creationist, since I believe in the Creator God but the mechanism He used is evolution, therefore I’m an evolutionary creationist.

An issue of terminology: I don’t like the term ‘evolutionary creationism’. Why? ‘Creationism’ historically hasn’t referred to the mere notion of God as Creator of all things. It has referred to the idea of special creation, i.e. that God created different types of things de novo in punctiliar creative events separated by space and time. Thus, in common parlance it becomes quite disingenuous for evolutionists committed to a completely naturalistic explanation for the origin of life and its diversity who are also theists to call themselves ‘evolutionary creationists’. It uses the word ‘creationism’ in an unusual way that confuses more than it clarifies (Creationism). That said, you do not seem to be an ‘evolutionary creationist’ in that sense, since you reject abiogenesis. Perhaps then you would genuinely qualify to be an ‘evolutionary creationist’! But then you run into the opposite problem—as confusing as the most common use of ‘evolutionary creationism’ is, it’s not what you would mean by it.

Regarding Genesis, here is my discovery. The author listed six days of creation but one must ask: “Is it our days or is it God’s days ?”

What is it in the language of Genesis 1 (or Exodus 20 or Exodus 31) that tells us the days are different in length from the ordinary days we experience? Nothing. Rather, the context in Genesis specifies that these days included an evening and a morning, which serves to define them as earthly calendar days. But if terms can take on a different meaning and become inscrutable just because God is acting, then we could not know what any of the words mean. One could argue that the light God created was really God’s light, not ours, etc., which just becomes nonsensiscal. Furthermore, Exodus 20 and 31 indicate ‘God’s days’ in Creation Week are identical in length to our ordinary work days. After all, it’s precisely the length of the periods of work and rest that forms the point of continuity between God’s paradigm and Israel’s copy. Israel was supposed to copy the temporal pattern of God’s work and rest in Creation Week. It marked them out as his people, and it gave them rest in a way Pharaoh never did. It showed that God is a good king, and not a tyrant like Pharaoh. Please see God’s days vs man’s days?

We know that God is outside of the time, space and matter but that doesn’t mean He can’t subject Himself to any of those factors if He chooses to do so. Jesus Christ is God, yet he constraint [sic] himself in human’s time (living in a 24 hour day) and died for us, so he constraint [sic] himself in the natural law.

God’s relation to time isn’t relevant (How does God relate to time?), because word meanings are determined by context, and in the above passages the context indicates that the days deal with earthly time.

Back to the matter at hand, God could have chosen to constraint [sic] Himself in a period of time where the biblical author understood as “days” as in “working days”.

Of course God could have. But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether we believe what God said He did.

2 Peter 3:8 reads “But do not overlook this fact beloved, that with the Lord 1000 years are as one day, and one day as 1000 years”. Figuratively, this doesn’t mean for Him 1000 years equal a day but a long time is just a blink of the Lord’s eye, therefore He could have chosen his working days to be a long time period.

Nobody doubts this. But that’s not the issue, as I said above. See also 2 Peter 3:8—‘one day is like a thousand years’.

In fact, in my perspective, God choosing to work over a long period of time proves that He is the God that cares and [is] invested in his creation. Notice that each description in His working days ends with “And there was morning and evening, the…day”, this to me may also imply that God marked the final day of each creation stage, which could last a long time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that He created everything in those days.

So are you saying that there is a long creation stage in between each day, and that the days mentioned in the text are literal 24-hour days that simply conclude each longer stage? That would totally contradict the analogy in Exodus 20 and 31 between Creation Week and our 7-day work week. The seven days are clearly taken by these passages to be consecutive, with no gaps of millions of years between them.

Also, God would have been involved with His creation even if He did take six literal days, so stretching out the timeframe of God’s creative activity does nothing to enhance God’s involvement in the world and demonstrate His loving concern for it. On the contrary, adding millions of years to Genesis undermines the goodness of God, because it removes the connection between sin and death. See Did God create over billions of years? And why is it important?

Regarding pre-Fall dietary, God said He gave us and other animals plants for food, but that doesn’t mean that plants are the only kinds of food allowed, right? The word “dominion” when He commanded us to be fruitful and multiply and give dominions to all creatures, according to a Hebrew scholar, sounds “harsh” which implies some kind of subduing or consumption.

This is a common suggestion. The problem for it revolves around the contrasting blessings given in Genesis 1:29–30 (which mentions only plants) and Genesis 9:2–3 (which mentions meat). Why would that contrast exist, especially given the clear allusions to Genesis 1 in Genesis 9? Simply for matters of emphasis? That does not seem to be the most natural reading. The face value meaning is that humans were not permitted to eat meat prior to the Flood.

Nor do I think the mere connotations of a word or two describing the dominion humanity was given in Genesis 1:28 are enough to make plausible the idea that meat-eating was implicitly permitted in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is a unique context compared to other uses of the term in the Old Testament. The subjects of the ‘subjugation’ are not humans, as in most other uses in the OT; and it’s explicitly given in the “very good” context before the Fall. All the indications we have of the pre-Fall world in Genesis 1–2, and probable allusions in places like Isaiah 11 and 65, are of life, productivity, and harmony. (The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals)

At any rate, even if, arguendo, we granted the possibility of some form of ‘permitted carnivory’ before the Fall, is that enough to place the massive, destructive carnage of the fossil record before the Fall? Not at all. If ever anything testified to the “groaning” and “subjection to futility” (cf. Romans 8:19–23) of the post-Fall world, it is the fossil record. See Drawing power: People get the point when they see these two pictures: The famous ‘Eden on bones’ illustration has a new stable mate, ‘Thorns before sin’, doubling the impact.

To be honest with you, I’m still finding the answer for deaths and sufferings before the Fall so I will response to that later.

I believe Adam and Eve as an archetypal historical couple that God chose out of other couples. If one reads Genesis 1: 26 and comes back to Genesis 2:7, I think we knew something else is going here.

Paul didn’t. Look at his gloss on Genesis 2:7 in 1 Corinthians 15:45: “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’”. Here’s the LXX of Genesis 2:7: “ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν” (and it’s a straightforward translation of the Hebrew). Here’s Paul’s gloss in Greek in 1 Cor. 15:45: “Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν”. I added the emphasis on the two words Paul added: πρῶτος (“first”) and Ἀδὰμ (“Adam”), both of which qualify ὁ ἄνθρωπος (“the man”). Paul makes explicit two things he clearly believes are implicit in Genesis 2:7: first, that the man God made in Genesis 2 was Adam and, second, that Adam was the first man.

Now, it appears Paul means more than that Adam was the first ever man in v. 45, since he calls Jesus “the second man” two verses later (1 Cor. 15:47). But he didn’t mean less. Why? Paul was emphasizing Adam and Jesus as the first and second representative men. But what made them such? Adam was the first created man (as per Genesis 2:7), and Jesus was the first resurrected man (1 Cor. 15:20). Paul ties the representative significance of Adam and Christ to their chronological priority in creation and resurrection, respectively. So, yes, Paul does affirm that Adam was the first ever man in 1 Cor. 15:45. And this was the same Paul who said this in Acts 17:26: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth [emphasis added]”. For more on this, see Adam as the protoplast—views from the early church in response to the archetypal view, John Walton reimagines Adam and Eve, and Debating the historical Adam.

He made humans and told them to subdue the Earth but later on he made Adam, so it is possible to recognize that there were other people outside of Eden.

But again, note Genesis 2:1–2: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” And Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them”. God’s creative work was finished by the end of Day 6, and that included humanity. Humanity at that point consisted of Adam and Eve.

Moreover, note the numerous allusions to Genesis 1:2–27 in Genesis 5:1–3. For instance, Adam passes on the ‘image and likeness’ he had (in creation from God, but also in corruption from the Fall) to Seth. This also indicates that the Adam of 5:1–3 is the man God made in Genesis 1:26–27 and 2:7.

God chose them to represent humanity’s condition, since He created us humans, He knew us so well that He didn’t need to do statistics to conclude that we are unholy.

The Scriptures show that Adam and Eve were not just chosen to represent God; they were made to represent God. And we all do too because we’re all descended from them. That’s what it means to be ‘in Adam’.

These are just my analyses, please feel free to rebuke and correct me but once again let us remember that we are the body of Christ. God bless!

Billy

Thank you for the friendliness with which you’ve engaged us. I hope that this will be taken in the same spirit as you’ve engaged us. Still, the differences between us are I think quite substantial. There are important issues at stake in this debate (Creation: Why it matters). I encourage you to look further into these matters, and strive to submit to the Scriptures, even when it conflicts with what the world tells us.

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

References and notes

  1. Gordon, B., Constrained integration view; in: Copan, P. and Reese, C.L. (Eds.), Three Views on Christianity and Science, Zondervan Academic, Kindle Edition, p. 144, 2021. Return to text.

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