Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Problems With Creation Science I: Absence of a Theology of Creation

My encounter with this anti-Sydney Diocese blog has strengthened my concerns about Creation Science. As I’ve indicated, I don’t have a problem with the idea of a literal six day creation in the abstract. What does concern me is that, almost without exception in my experience, people who are into creation science seem to be disinterested in theology, and in understanding the world theologically.

I have lost count of the number of videos, magazine articles, internet articles, and teaching sessions I’ve been part of that have gone over Genesis 1, the Flood, and Behemoth from Job 40. And it is always the same. These passages are mined to show:

  1. That the world is 8 000 years old
  2. That if we had been there, we would have seen that Genesis 1 gives us a journalistic account of how creation came about. That is, it is pretty much what we would have seen with our own eyes.
  3. That there was a flood that covered the world with water, and so contemporary geological theories are fatally flawed.
  4. That there were dinosaurs still in existence at the time of Job.

These might be true or not, but none of them really touch on the core concerns of the Bible. These are the kind of questions that are of interest primarily to post-enlightenment empiricism. They are scientific questions about the world.

What is always passed over (and so one presumes that it is considered uninteresting or unimportant) is the theological interpretation of the world. Some examples include:

The way in which creation comes about in the first three days by creating order through making divisions—light versus day, heaven versus earth, land versus sea. And then the second set of three days seems to return to these basic structures and fill them: sun, moon on day four; birds and sea creatures on day five, land creatures and humanity on day six. This suggests a basic understanding of creation as being structured through binary opposition and then filled. Thus, in Genesis 1 we get a move from the original state: formless (no structure) and void (empty) and finish with a structured universe in which entities exist. When one sees that making a separation between two things is fundamental to creation, then, for example, the holiness laws, with their separation into holy and profane, clean and unclean, make far more sense.

What is also passed over is the way in which creation exists to serve humanity:

Genesis 1:14-18 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.

Here the existence of the sun and the moon are explained simply as to give light to the world and to regulate day and night. They, along with the stars exist simply to regulate seasons, days and years. They are the celestial equivalent of a wrist watch.

That’s hardly a scientific answer. What about stars we never see on earth without the aid of, very, very powerful telescopes? What about the sun’s role in keeping the solar system stuck together, and providing energy for the other planets? What about the other planets in the solar system, or asteroids? What about the fact that the stars are actually other suns?

But it is a powerful theological answer. Humanity regularly falls into worshipping the sun, the moon, and the stars or awarding them immense power over our lives, as astrology indicates. Here Genesis 1 shows us that they are not lords over the earth. They are mere servants. Night lights for human beings. They exist for our sake.

And this is the clear teaching of the NT:

1 Timothy 6:17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.

1 Timothy 4:3-5 …men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

Everything made by God is good, and so nothing is inherently off limits. The fact that this world has been filled with good things (as Genesis 1 painstakingly shows with it’s enunciation of the six day process of setting the universe up) tells us something about God, that God ‘richly supplies us with all things’. That is, that God is superabundantly generous to the human race.

It also tells us the stance we are to have towards the world. God has given us all things for us ‘to enjoy’. Christianity is pro-aesthetic. Things in the world are good and so should be enjoyed for their own sake. Christianity is anti-ascetic: advocating the abstaining from foods and forbidding marriage (and I would suggest that these are indicative examples, not intended to exhaust the kinds of things people who teach demonic doctrines (from 1 Tim 4:1-2) might say) is criticised in some of the harshest language Paul ever uses.

The purpose God had for creating things was so that those of us who believe and know the truth (i.e. are Christians) would gratefully share in them, sanctifying them by our reception of the word of God (believing the gospel) and prayer. That is, we are to enjoy things, and to enjoy things in a non-secular way. We are to enjoy the world as a gift from God, and so be grateful to God for it, and pray to use things for the purposes God gave them for. What we don’t do is find our security, or place our hope in the abundance of good things we have. We recognise God alone as the giver of life, and the giver of all good things.

Hence, the call on Christians to deny themselves, to pursue Christ wholeheartedly, to live a life of sacrificial love for others, needs to be understood against this backdrop. Christians are to forego enjoying the things of this world. But that is because of the demands of faith and love in the last days—the days when the ascended Christ rules over this rebellious world and all his enemies are being put under his feet. It is forgoing the good out of love, it is not asceticism for asceticism’s sake. Because everything is given for our good, we are free to use or not use them, depending on the demands of the circumstances in the context of love.

For me, this has transformed the way I relate to creation and tackle issues from alcohol, to culture and art, to work, and love of money. And I haven’t even begun to touch on the strong NT teaching about the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and creation!

And here’s the problem. It was only after I stopped reading Creation Science stuff on the topic and started reading material that they consider to have fatally compromised on the doctrine of creation, that my eyes were opened to begin to grasp this much bigger vista of a theological approach to the world.

Even if Genesis 1 is intended to be taken literally, I am very grateful that God has allowed me to grasp this way of seeing the world as existing as his good gift to his people, to be enjoyed with gratitude. I consider myself to have gained by losing the one to gain the other. Grasping this world as God’s good gift changes everything. It gives purpose and meaning, not just to human beings, but to all things.


Dannii said...

It is true that Genesis provides a strong polemic against the astrology based religions of the ANE (and ours today too). However it can only do this if it actually happened as described, if it's true. If the sun wasn't really made after the earth, but before, then Genesis is just like any other creation myth. One myth can't trump another.

Baddelim said...

Hi Dannii,

A very warm welcome. Glad you are willing to comment, as I've appreciated everything you've said.

Your argument doesn't seem self-evident to me here. Parables are true, even though the events they describe are often not historical realities at all. And they work against rival views of the kingdom of God.

'True' doesn't have to mean something like 'an eyewitness account'. Apocalyptic is true, and describes historical realities, but I also think there that attempts to read books like Revelation as describing what we might see if we were there as wrong headed, and sooner or later either come up with absurdities, or have to recognise that events won't happen 'as described' (as far as our eyes will see).

Creation and End are at the boundaries of this world, historical reporting just might not work when dealing with such matters.

Dannii said...

The truth parables give is very different. The truth of the 4 soils is for example that though the gospel may seem to take effect, it may not have any roots. If no farmer actually ever did anything like the parable, the message is still true.

It's different with this creation polemic idea though. The truth a polemic would try to show is something along the lines of the sun being created to serve the earth and mankind. However if the sun wasn't created first, it isn't true and the polemic doesn't work. If the sun was created first, why not worship it at a level slightly lower than whichever god created it?

Jean said...

Your wife Jennie has been swinging by my blog a bit recently, and here I am swinging by yours, it's a small bloggy world!

I've been doing some work on food and self-control, and I've discussed some of the issues you mention regarding how to enjoy the things of this world. I've been wrestling with the idea that self-control and moderation are not ends in themselves, as Christians so often imply - "asceticism for asceticism's sake", as you put it - but that we deny ourselves in order to love others (and also, I think, to avoid serving created things as an idol).

Thankyou for alerting me to how the fact that we are living in the "last days" also has an impact on how we enjoy created things. If it's ok with you, I'd like to quote a few paragraphs from this post (the paragraphs on how to enjoy creation) in my blog, to help people think through this issue further.

I'd love to hear more about the bits you haven't touched on - 'the strong NT teaching about the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and creation' - where were you going with this? And how does it affect our enjoyment of earthly things? (now there's a big question!)