Arguments about Creation

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Discussions about the rationality of faith in the twentieth century invariably focus on the Genesis account of creation: its biblical interpretation, the Darwin discoveries, and the political context. Let me consider each in turn.

What Does Genesis Say?

The first chapter in Genesis paints a picture of God as divine creator who calls the universe into being with words spoken over a period of seven days. While much is made of God as a sovereign, king of kings, the language is not one of command, but of invitation: “Let there be.” God is a gentle sovereign who ruled by virtue of creative activity, not conquest nor purchase, nor chance, and in his first specific act of creation, created light—a metaphor for virtue (Gen 1:3). 

The first verse offers a summary: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Who created? God created. When did he create? In the beginning. What did he create? Heaven and earth—everything. 

This one verse radically changed the perception of time and space. In the Ancient Near East, the time that mattered was day and night, and the seasons—spring, summer, fall, and winter—that controlled the cycles of agriculture. The space that mattered was the boundaries on a particular kingdom or empire. Here in this verse, God stands outside of time and space creating both. There are no paths up the mountain to this god, because he transcends both. The god of Genesis must come down the mountain to us.

How do we know? The Genesis account comes to us as the confession of the church. In creating the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), the god in Genesis is nothing like other gods of the Ancient Near East, which appeared more like today’s celebrities, movie stars, and athletes. God redefined what it meant to be a god. 

Not only was he sovereign; he was completely free of the constraints of this world.  When God told Moses from the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM”  (Exod 3:14), what he meant was: I am the real deal—a real god, not like the wish-fulfillment gods that Pharaoh created and that we create to serve our own needs.

The Darwin Discoveries

The nineteenth century brought amazing discoveries about our world in agriculture, manufacturing, science, and medicine. While authors like Marx and Freud likened religion to being on drugs and being delusional, Darwin stuck to his knitting in exploring the biological world taking stock of the fossil record and the diversity of species. Theorizing that ancient species of animals evolved into those that we see today, his theory of evolution quickly became viewed as a competing vision of the creation account in Genesis. 

Political Uses of Evolution

From the spontaneous generation of life from inorganic compounds to the development of human species, Darwin gave Marxists and other secular religionists a creation account that erased God from the picture. National Socialists in Germany likewise picked up on Darwin’s survival of the fittest to posit the existence of a master race, the German folk, among humans. The attacks on the creation accounts in Genesis quickly elevated quickly into power politics on a world scale. If as Nietzsche philosophied, God is dead, then anything goes. With our gentle God out of view, the secular religionists quickly built concentration camps and fired up the gas chambers. Millions perished.

Returning to Genesis

Ironically, while Marx and Freud were atheists, Darwin was a practicing Christian. Think about it. God’s invitation in creation does not describe how the instrument of creation beyond the invitation. Borrowing a legal analogy, when Congress passes a law, it usually does not care how the President implements the law beyond offering resources and perhaps a target deadline. God could easily have used evolution to see to it that his invitation in creation takes place. When your father flicks on a light switch and announces—let there be light, you could say that he, like our Heavenly Father, has a sense of humor, even if it is a dad joke.

A Doubting Church

The problem in the nineteenth century arose as doubt in society seeped into the church. Rather than calling out Marx and Freud for slandering God and his church, the criticism sunk in. Some found refuge in philosophic defenses of God’s existence, while others labored to make sure that Christians experienced deep emotional experiences in the pews on Sunday with great music and a good sermon. 

This adoption of Greek anthropology, separating thinking and emotions, weakened the church and mimicked stereotypes of men as thinkers and women as emotional. Without ritual, without deep teaching, without deep commitment and church discipline, the church acted as if the Bible were little more than a source of bedtime stories for the kids. Without moral training that recognizes the tension in practice between different theological principles, like purity of the church and evangelism, churches began to split over affinity to one theological principle over another.

Science in Service of Faith

The fascination with science peaked in World War II. With the invention of numerous instruments of mass destruction—mass bombings, napalm, death camps, nuclear weapons, and political uses of psychology and euthanasia—people woke up to the need for limits on scientific investigation. 

Several aspects of science proved helpful in understanding our faith. One is to notice that the scientific method—felt need, problem definition, data collection, analysis, recommendations, responsibility bearing—starts with assumptions about what is needed. These assumptions about how our world works start with the words we use and our faith. Is it any wonder that numerous modern languages began with a translation of the Bible into the local dialect? The King James version of the Bible played that role in English; Luther’s Bible played that role in German.

The Big Bang theory of creation started from measurement of the direction and speed of partials in space that point to a partial time and place where the known universe began with a singularity—a single point. In an instant, the entire universe came into being. No one can say why, but the evidence that it happened is written in the stars. And guess what? The confession of the church in Genesis is completely consistent with this theory from science.

Who has the better story? Which story would you rather live into?

Arguments about Creation

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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