Creation and Evolution (Part 1)
Transcript of William Lane Craig's Defenders 2 class.
When we talk about the Doctrine of Creation, most people automatically think exclusively of the creation-evolution debate. I hope that our study of the Doctrine of Creation in this class has helped you to see how much richer and fuller the Doctrine of Creation is than just the controversy between creation and evolution. We’ve talked about things like creatio ex nihilo. We’ve talked about God’s conservation of the world in being. We’ve talked about God’s providence – both his ordinary providence in governing the world as well as his acts of extraordinary providence and miraculous intervention in the world. And we’ve talked about higher orders of creation like angels and demons. So the Doctrine of Creation is a rich theological doctrine that goes far beyond disputes between creation and evolution.
Interpretation of Genesis 1
Still, the question of how God created life and biological diversity on this planet is an important and very interesting aspect of the Doctrine of Creation. So what I want to do now is to take an excursus from our survey of the Doctrine of Creation to talk specifically about the creation of life and biological diversity. In order to do so, we want to turn to the principal text in the Bible that addresses the question of God’s creation of life and biological diversity which is the first chapter of Genesis. After verse 1 in which God created the heavens and the earth (the universe) the author of Genesis goes on to describe how God creates this wonderful world as an environment for human beings to live in – how he transforms the earth into a habitable place for humanity. So what we want to take up first in our study is the interpretation of Genesis 1:2 to the end of the chapter, particularly in conversation with what modern science and the biological theory of evolution have to say about the origins of biological complexity. Let’s begin our study by reading this text from the first chapter of Genesis:
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament 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 lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.1 And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
In order to interpret this passage correctly we have to follow certain fundamental hermeneutical principles. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. In interpreting a writing, you have to apply (or follow) certain hermeneutical principles in order to understand it correctly. First and most fundamentally, we must interpret a writing according to the literary genre, or type, to which it belongs. Genre is the literary type to which a text belongs. It is absolutely critical to interpret texts according to their genre because it would be a catastrophic mistake to interpret a text literally if the genre of that text isn’t of the sort that is intended to be taken literally. For example, when the psalmist says, “Let the trees of the wood clap their hands before the LORD”2 he is obviously not trying to teach botany. Think how inappropriate it would be to read poetry, such as the Psalms, literally. That would be a disastrous misinterpretation of the text. Or, again, think how inappropriate it would be to interpret literally a book like the book of Revelation where the monsters and other figures that are described in Revelation are meant to be symbols of, say, nation-states or political alliances.3 When I first became a Christian I thought that the book of Revelation literally described sea monsters who were going to come up out of the ocean at the end times and take over the world! Seven headed beasts and so forth! But as you begin to understand the type of literature that the book of Revelation represents – namely, Jewish apocalyptic literature – then you realize that apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic and figurative and therefore it would be a mistake to take it literally. So, when we come to Genesis 1, considerations of literary genre will be important in deciding how to interpret it correctly.
Another hermeneutical principle that we should observe here is trying to determine how the original author and his audience would have understood the text. It is not enough to ask what it means to you today. You have to ask how the author would have understood this and how his audience would have understood the text. We should examine the text on its own basis and respect its integrity as a text. Many Christians unfortunately follow a hermeneutic which is sometimes called concordism. This is trying to interpret the text in light of modern science – trying to read modern science back into the original text rather than letting the text stand on its own two feet and speak to us. For example, I have heard Christians say that the Bible predicts television! That if you read the Bible you can find predictions in the Bible of television! What are they talking about? Well, they will point to passages in the Bible where it says that when Jesus Christ returns to earth – the second coming of Christ – every eye will see him.4 And they said this is impossible for people living on a globe like the earth – the sphere of the earth. Not everyone could see Christ when he returns. So, they must be watching it on television – this is a prediction in the Bible of modern television! Or, in the case of Genesis 1, there are examples of Christians today who will read modern Big Bang cosmology back into the text. For example, there is a text, I believe, in Isaiah where the prophet says that God stretched out the heavens.5 And this is supposed to be an anticipation of the expansion of space in the contemporary Standard Big Bang Cosmological Model. As time goes on, space stretches and space expands so that the universe is expanding and this is read back into the Bible so that when it says he stretched out the heavens this is supposed to be an anticipation of the stretching, or expansion, of space postulated in the Big Bang model. Well, I think it is fairly obvious that these are preposterous examples of reading the text, not on its own and not in the way the author or his audience would have understood it, but trying to read things back into the text to make it into concord with modern science – hence the name concordism. This is really eisegesis, not exegesis. You want to take the meaning out of the text, not read the meaning back into the text and impose it on the text.
Obviously, I am not saying that we should not engage in the project of seeking a synthesis of science and the teaching of the biblical text. On the contrary, I am deeply committed to this project as you know. I think this project is vital for modern Christians if we are to have an informed and relevant theological worldview. Our theological worldview needs to be informed by, and in conversation with, the discoveries of modern science. But that is a later project. That is a secondary project. The first project is the task of interpreting the text itself. First you need to determine what the text is saying before you can try to relate it to the discoveries of modern science.6 So rather than trying to impose modern science onto the account in Genesis 1, or to read Genesis 1 in light of modern science, we want to read the account as it would have been understood by the original people for whom it was written and who read it.
When we do that a number of different competing interpretations of the Genesis account emerge. What we will want to do next time is to begin to go through these various alternative interpretations of Genesis 1.
A very helpful website that you might want to consult on this question has been put up by the Presbyterian Church in America at www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.html or if you want a PDF file www.pcahistory.org/creation/report.pdf . This is a report by the Presbyterian Church in America on the question of the interpretation of the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis. It gives a very nice survey of the history of the interpretation of Genesis 1 as well as the various alternative interpretations that have been offered down through history of this chapter. Then it gives an assessment of each interpretation’s strengths and weaknesses. So if you are interested in exploring more of the topic that we are going to be briefly surveying in this class, then I think you will find this to be a very helpful site if you’d like to read more.
Question: Who was the audience?
Answer: Well, it would be the ancient Hebrew people.
Followup: Aren’t we the audience also? Isn’t Genesis a revelation? Didn’t God know that we’d be reading it?
Answer: Yes, obviously, that raises the issue of . . . the authorship here isn’t just the original author who wrote it, be it Moses or whomever. God is in one sense the ultimate author. So you could say, “Couldn’t God inspire in it things that only people would later understand who have, say, the benefit of modern science?” While that is possible, I think that we have to begin, at least, by asking ourselves what did the original human author intend and what did he want his audience to understand. How would they have taken it? That is certainly the place to begin before you begin to read things into the text in light of modern science. That latter kind of hermeneutic is very dangerous because it is all too easy to read things into the text that weren’t intended by the original author whatsoever. You really lose all constraints if you lose the constraint of the original meaning of the text. I think we have got to start there at least with understanding this text.7
2 cf. Isaiah 55:12; Psalm 98:8
4 Revelation 1:7
5 cf. Psalm 104:1-2; Isaiah 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15; Zechariah 12:1
7 Total Running Time: 19:14 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)