Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Reflections on Creation

Given what I have read, talked about, and thought about, here are some conclusions which I have reached regarding the topic of the creation of this world. For the most part, these are things about which I have a very definite position and which I firmly believe are critical to a correct understanding of the Bible’s view of creation. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is things to which I am deeply committed as based in the truth of Scripture

1. God made everything. It seems simple but I state it anyways. Genesis may not explicitly say that God created everything from nothing, but the fact that God made heaven and earth is an indication that God made one end of things and the other, and so everything in between. Plus, Scripture clearly states that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3) And so, the great truth of Genesis for then is the same as for now: creation isn’t self-created or accidental. It was created with a specific purpose by a Creator who is separate from his creation.

2. Adam was as a single, actual human being who had the specific job of being the moral and physical representative of all human beings who would come. Completely apart from the fact that Genesis understands Adam as a real, historically-placed figure, the amount of New Testament theology that is built upon Adam and the role of Jesus as the Second Adam requires that Adam, like Jesus, would be a real human figure who was just like all the humans that he represents. If Jesus had to be a real human being who was the same as all the humans he represented in order to save them, so Adam had to be a real human being who was the same as all the humans he represented and doomed. I’ve heard DNA-based arguments about the number of different original humans; there are possible explanations and they’re probably not provable. On this one, I simply cannot budge: there must have been a man who God called ‘Adam’ and entrusted with being the representative of all humanity, just like the Second Adam who represented all humanity in his life, death, and resurrection.

3. Creation was different before Adam and Eve fell. While evolutionary theory holds that death and violence were always present as part of the cycle of life, somehow things changed when Adam sinned. There was a time when the earth was not “groaning in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22) and it obviously now is. What that looked like, I cannot even guess at and speculation would be silly; but it is clear that Adam’s sin (and our sin) harms creation at large, harm that will be repaired in Christ’s second coming

4. Humans were created special and different, not simply the continuation of an evolutionary trend. Why? 2 Main reasons:
1) We were made in the image of God. That truth resonates all throughout Scripture and it sets us apart from the rest of creation, making us viceregents (‘little kings’) who rule the earth under the Great Regent (King), God. We were made in the image of God, not in the perfected image of a long line of ever-developing creatures. Animals may or may not have come about through this chain, but humans absolutely did not.
2) Death is our enemy, not a natural part of us. 1 Cor. 15:26 calls death the last enemy to be defeated. The Tree of Life in the Garden, the curse of death upon humans, the death of death at the hands of Christ—all of these tell me that the greatest enemy of humans is death; and Genesis doesn’t talk about death as spiritual, but as real, physical, end of life death. The story of Genesis says, unlike any culture that has existed or will, that the true nature of humanity was not death but life—eternal life with God. Jesus, as the representative of humanity, redeemed humanity to be what they were meant to be, and he redeemed them to immortality—physical immortality in a physical resurrection. We were never meant to die, that was a function of the curse. We were meant to live forever in the presence of God. And if humans were meant to live forever, they cannot simply be the most recent link in a chain of evolution in which all previous creatures were mortal and had to live and die to continue the cycle. Humans had to be part of something different, in this case, the image of God.

5. Evolution as a system of understanding how the world works comes with serious issues which can be damaging to our faith. (See my previous post, “Everything Evolves”.) If someone is willing to spend a certain amount of time in evolutionary theory, or is willing to subscribe to any number of conclusions derived from it, they must be careful not to be caught up in some of the more dangerous elements of philosophical evolution, as some of the most foundational elements of evolutionary theory stand directly opposed to the truth about creation, the world, and God as Genesis and the rest of Scripture reveal.

6. The current ruling understanding of how the universe was made (atheistic evolution) is no more innocuous than the ruling understanding at the time Genesis was written (polytheism). Both understandings lead to the belief that humans are partially or entirely accidental and are therefore allowed to do as they please; the reigning perspective today says that humans are the pinnacle of all things, the very best that exists, and entitled to the best the world has, so long as they can get their hands on it safely. Atheistic evolution, like polytheism, is a potentially devastating cocktail of truth and lies which stands now as the most popular replacement for belief in the One True God. Those who would seek its truths must be doubly wary of its lies. This is not to say that everything there must be untrue, but that in seeking the truth in a system which replaces God, one must be very careful of the lies that are certainly present.

I stand as part of a generation that is at the cutting-edge of the sword that has to think through how the Word of God can fit with what is being discovered by modern science; how that works out will deeply affect my ministry to my peers and to those younger than me for the rest of my life. What things will ultimately work out to, I cannot say—I am no prophet. But at this early stage in the development of our understanding, it’s important for us to lay out the most basic principles, the guns that we stand by, the things that we proclaim as true regardless of what the scientific community may propose. Some of the things I have posited as solid principles may see change or development at various levels. But I am claiming at this point that these are some of the things which I think will stand, the ones where I can and at times will draw the line.

(Please feel free to comment, discuss, add, or disagree. I’ve got a thick skin. Type away if you’ve got something on your mind.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Everything Evolves

Around 150 years ago, a scientist by the name of Charles Darwin proposed the idea of evolution of animals both within a species and from species to species. 150 years later, everything evolves. The philosophical notion of evolution totally permeates society. There is no discipline of academia, no model for business, no psychological methodology, no theological position, and no philosophy of life, which is not defined in some way by the idea of evolution. Whether something is totally for evolution, entirely against evolution, or at some middle point, everything has interacted with the notion of evolution.

It may be clear that what I am talking about is not the theory of evolution—the idea that all life evolved from some original source. I’m talking about the general philosophical notion that things evolve—that things constantly move from one state to another in an upward trend by a given process, and if we can figure out how that process works, we can replicate it to our own benefit. (There may be more to this idea in the educated world and particularly in science, but in the general populace, this is the idea.)

For a moment with me, rewind 2000 years to the Greco-Roman world. This is a world that is characterized by dualism, an idea coming from Platonic philosophy. Most simply, this is the idea that spirit is good and matter is evil. For most people’s purposes, the ‘matter is evil’ part was the important part. They treated everything physical and tangible as evil. This idea permeated the entire culture, affecting every system of belief, every political structure, every social setting, every aspect of trade—its effect was holistic. Some accepted it whole-heartedly, denying all comforts of the world: the Cynics. Others took it another direction: if matter is evil, then what happens to our bodies is irrelevant, so eat, drink, party, be merry—live a wild life! Some took it in a religious direction when Christianity came on the scene: the Gnostics. (They were condemned as heretics for a number of reasons I won’t get into here). In short, dualism was a philosophical mindset which ruled the day for centuries.

A professor of mine, one Sinclair Buchanan Ferguson—a respected theologian and author, a great Christian, and a great man with a great Scottish accent—spoke once of how evolution is in many ways to our world today as Platonic dualism was to the Greco-Roman world of 2000 years ago, and I, as you may guess, believe that he is right. The idea of evolution as a philosophical notion pervades our society. Everything evolves: animals evolve. Thinking evolves. Businesses evolve. Politics evolve. Relationships evolve. Science evolves. Buildings evolve. Cars evolve. Products evolve. Coffee evolves. If you can consider it, you can consider a way in which it can be or is thought to evolve or have evolved.

Now this may not seem like much of an impact. After all, evolution is just a fancy way of saying that things change, right? And of course things change—why wouldn’t they? Or maybe you simply see it as development; of course things develop—nothing stays static. But the philosophical notion of evolution does have some things which should be regarded with caution by Christians, to say the least.

1. Change as for the better
The theory of evolution necessarily implies that in the evolutionary process, despite some—or many—downs, things are generally on an upward swing. If something exists, it is evolving and it will get better. And the processes in it, even if there is some up-down swing, will take it ultimately to a better place. This is beautiful optimism. It’s also sadly wrong. Scripture is abundantly clear that things are going to get much worse before they get better, and that things are, from a moral standpoint, heading constantly downwards until all things are fulfilled (read Matthew 24 to see this clearly, also all of Revelation and the last chapters of Daniel). So while the inherent ultimate optimism of philosophical evolution is nice—it’s wrong. And it’s dangerous. If we as Christians start to think that things will constantly get better and better until we get to heaven, we will be sorely disappointed. And we may be na├»ve and inactive about the state of the world. True Christian maturity will see past the optimism of philosophical evolution and realize that things will get worse and worse. But then at the end of times things will rapidly get better.

2. Change as we can effect it
There is a distinct interest in our world figuring out the way in which things evolve—the way in which thought, businesses, animals, or cars evolve. The idea is that if we can simply figure out how things evolve, we can use that knowledge to create and guide evolution as we see fit, using it to our own ends to better the world. This is classic Enlightenment humanism. It is the very basic idea that we as human beings possess the knowledge, capabilities, etc. to make the world a better place. That is a lie. No matter how much of the evolution of something you can figure out, no matter how much you can use that for good, you cannot, under your own power, make the world a better place. Even if all humans work at it all together, it won’t work. Making the world a better place is always, only, ever, done by the power of God in the world. Period. We are not the ones who effect an ultimate bettering of the world—God is. God chooses to work through us, but it is not within our own human power to make the world perfect.

3. Change as the randomness of the world
Generally speaking, although science seeks to determine how it is that everything works, even down to the very smallest parts, there is still a randomness present in the system. For instance, the phrase “it happened” sums things up fairly well. Evolution just “happened.” Christians do not believe that. We believe in a God who has planned out the world, who made it, and who controls it. And it IS NOT random. Evolution as a mindset leads us to believe that things simply “happen.” Things do not simply happen. Everything, good or bad, happens as part of God’s plan, and if we think that things just happen then we’ll miss how God is guiding our lives and shaping us for his glory and our benefit.

4. Change as the salvation of the human race
Although in secular circles there is no real sense of an ‘end’ to all things, there is still a general belief that evolution in its varied forms is the ultimate hope of humanity. This belief is not new to philosophical evolution, but has been the characteristic of many ruling philosophies in history. Many philosophies have been understood as the means of the ‘salvation’ for humans. This, not surprisingly, is the biggest danger of philosophical evolution. Anything that takes the place of Christ as the ultimate hope of humanity is an idol, and violates the first and greatest commandment: “I am YHWH your God…you must have no others Gods before me. You must not bow down to them or worship them.” Evolution, if not properly understood, can lead us to place our hope there, rather than where it belongs—in God.

This is not to say that philosophical evolution is wholly evil. Nor is it to say that evolutionary theory is necessarily wrong. Like many other philosophies which ruled a certain day or days and still have sway, there is truth present in philosophical evolution which will never leave (and some untruth which will never leave). However, we as Christians must be very cautious that we do not accept wholesale the principles of philosophical evolution and that we do not give quarter to the most dangerous aspects. But most of all, we must be certain that we do not seek our ultimate hope in the optimistic, humanist ideals of philosophical evolution but rather in the person and work of Christ.