I have recently spoken at an Australian conference that happens every couple of years called the Conference on Science and Christianity (COSAC), held this year in Melbourne via digital media. I spoke on the historical interaction of science and Christianity in the specific medium of the proto-scientific literary genre, ‘theories of the earth’, which have long interested me. They flourished around 1700, particularly in Britain. As they slowly morphed into the beginnings of the science of geology in the early 1800s, they provided several examples of quite different approaches to the intersection of science and Christianity. There is a focus on the use of Genesis, especially Genesis 1 and the flood narrative. Here is the video of my talk for those interested:
Faith & Fossils: The Bible, Creation, and Evolution. By Lester L. Grabbe. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6910-4. xiii + 182pp. A$33.60.
= a supplemented edition of a book review submitted to the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology for a 2019 issue.
Lester Grabbe’s name will be familiar to anyone who has had much cause to read thoroughly in Old Testament scholarship, notably the history and historiography of ancient Israel, with a focus on the exile and early second temple period, having authored A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period (Continuum/T&T Clark, 2004, 2008) and Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (Continuum/T&T Clark, 2007) as just two examples from his prolific output. Faith and Fossils therefore represents a branching-out into a side interest for Grabbe, rather than his core expertise, yet he determines to balance the scales in Bible and evolution discussions by approaching the topic with biblical scholarship backing in contrast to the scientific expertise that often motivates such writings (p. ix). The book combines three primary themes, autobiography, biblical genre & backgrounds, and certain lines of scientific evidence into an argument for Christian openness to evolution as a practical reality about the world’s origin that need not clash with the fundamentals of the faith or the relevant biblical texts when rightly understood. While the world does not lack books seeking to persuade the person in the pew for or against evolution, Grabbe’s scholarly credentials and clarity win him a deserved place in the debate. Continue reading
I recently conducted a class on Creation, Fall and Redemption, with the emphasis on creation, for a colleague’s Essentials of Philosophy class. Our conversation ranged over a number of important issues in the Christian philosophy of creation, helped by some particularly sharp and engaged students. I offer the Powerpoint here in case it’s of help. (Just discovered I have to upgrade if I’m to include the audio.)
Note of a change: I’m putting the file directly into WordPress, so anyone who couldn’t reach it before should be able to access it now.
I’ll have to look into that audio! I received some very intelligent questions.
The key philosophical question about creation in my mind over the past 12 months or so is, “How long of a leash does God give the created order?” That is, is every event in the world God’s doing quite directly, as Luther tended to think? Is apparent cause and effect in nature really something of an illusion? Jonathan Edwards was quite strong on this too, and the classic figure who really unplugged natural events causally from one another, I understand, was William of Ockham with his ‘occasionalism’, as it’s called. Natural law, in this model, is a way of describing the regularities in God’s actions. Then if God chooses to be ‘irregular’ and do miracles, he’s not breaking any higher law, as it were. It keep the Lawgiver in charge of the laws. That’s attractive, and protects the sovereignty of God.
But there’s also something to be said for God giving creation its own, robust existence – allowing the natural world enough autonomy that one thing can really lead to another. Billiard ball A striking billiard ball B will send it off at the appropriate angle and speed without God needing to ‘micro-manage’ that interaction. Creation is programmed to behave regularly by God, in the way it will need to if human and other life is to be possible:
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night,
will never cease.
Gen. 8:22 (NIV)
Genesis 1 perhaps hints at God’s delegation of causal power to creation when it says, “Let the land produce vegetation” (Gen. 1:11), or animals (1:24). In any case, there are theological virtues that may be argued for this position as well, e.g. that it gives better assurance that we as human beings are given real existence involving genuine moment-to-moment continuity. If we follow a full-blown creatio continuua model, we might find ourselves saying that God effectively creates the world anew moment by moment. The risk there is that we become like video images, an illusion created by a rapid raster scan rate.
So for God to give natural bodies and living creatures a real moment-to-moment existence and continuity would be a true condescension and giving on his part – to introduce into existence other real entities where previously there had been none besides Him. Pondering that will rock your philosophical socks. But there is risk at this end too. Make the position too strong, and you have a creation that, once made, no longer needs God in order to ‘do its thing’. Further still, and you’re into process theology, where God is another cork in the stream of time, trying to manage things as best He can, like a very good chess player who still doesn’t know exactly what the opponent will do. I get that there are bits in the Bible where God speaks of a future that’s unresolved because of the human freedom factor (e.g. Jer. 26:3; 36:3), and we ought to take those seriously. But to imagine God as lodged in the stream of time just because we are is small-minded. I recommend Crysdale & Ormerod, Creator God, Evolving World, for an intelligent treatment of this issue. For a scientist out near the edge of a creation that’s too independent, in my view (i.e. risks dabbling with deism), but raises the same sorts of issues check out:
The wise old monkey in The Lion King told the young lion character, whatever his name was, that the whack on the head he had just applied with his stick was “in de past,” so it didn’t matter. I’m like someone who has had a good whack on the head when it comes to things further into the past than about 10 minutes, so forgive me if I’ve already posted this, but in May I had a post about Basil (‘the Great’), the Cappadocian church father who lived c. 330-379 AD/CE, published online by the Creation Project, operating out of the Henry Center, an arm of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, USA. It went by the above title, and its concern was to explain how Basil viewed creation in his famous nine-part Lenten sermon series on the subject, dating from about 376. It’s the first stand-alone piece of speaking/writing on the creation week or ‘hexaemeron’ in Genesis 1:1-2:3 to have appeared in the church, and gave birth to an entire genre of similar writings, as well as embedded treatments within Genesis commentaries and other types of writing, that lasted for more than 1,000 years. Basil was no dummy, and though he regularly disparages secular philosophy in this sermon series, he utilizes quite a bit of it as well.
Here’s the mug shot of Basil from the Henry Center page, with Basil looking suitably transcendental, if not somewhat spaced out. Hey, he did have his mystical side…
So you might find this an interesting read, if you’re following discussions about historical Christian thinking about creation and/or Genesis:
Last post, my power was running out. This time, funnily enough, it’s the anaesthetic on my wisdom tooth extraction. But this book is worth a quick post before the pain sets in:
My last post in this series offered my opinions on Chapter Four: “What Genesis 1–2 Teaches (And What It Doesn’t), by Tremper Longman III,” by C. John Collins. Now, finally, are my thoughts on:
Chapter Five: Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, by John H. Walton. Walton spent twenty years (1981–2001) teaching at Moody Bible Institute and has been OT prof. at Wheaton College since then. He’s quite prolific writing on Genesis and ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to Genesis and to the OT generally. He’s the only one of these guys I’ve heard speak in person, being lucky to catch him here in Australia within the last couple of years. The present essay is a nice nutshell version of his thinking on Genesis 1. I found myself agreeing with much that he said, but in the end he presents a solution to tensions over Genesis 1 that I suspect represents a bit of a fast move.
My last post in this series offered my opinions on Chapter Three: “Reading Genesis 1–2 with the Grain: Analogical Days,” by C. John Collins. Now, none too soon, are my thoughts on:
Chapter Four: What Genesis 1–2 Teaches (And What It Doesn’t), by Tremper Longman III, along with the other writers’ responses. Tremper Longman is one of the most prolific writers in the world of evangelical Christian scholarship, one of those guys who must stay up working all night every night, or has a dozen graduate students working for him, or both. He is also involved in the ongoing maelstrom that surrounds Westminster Theological Seminary in the US, which is spitting out professors on a regular basis; I’ll let you google that one. His profile means that his opinions on hot topics are well noticed, and in recent years his negotiability on evolutionary human origins and a literal Adam have come to attention. If you’ll forgive the spellos, one insight is available at: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/09/21/tremper-longman-on-the-historicity-of-adam/. Longman’s chapter here in Reading Genesis 1-2, as for the other contributors, is a great short-scope synopsis of his thinking on early Genesis matters.
My last post in this series offered my opinions on Chapter Two: Reading Genesis 1–2: A Literal Approach, by Todd S. Beall.
Now I offer a few thoughts on the next chapter:
At the time of publication, Collins was/is “Professor of Old Testament in the Dept. of Scripture and Interpretation at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He has a long list of achievements and publications in the interpretation of Genesis and understanding of creation, and brings scientific as well as theological training to the task. I was quite impressed years ago with his article, “How Old Is the Earth? Anthropomorphic Days in Genesis 1:1-2:3,” Presbyterion 20 (1994), 109-130, and he has more recently published:
C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsberg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006).
Collins, C. John. “Adam and Eve as Historical People, and Why It Matter,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 62, no. 3 (2009), 147–165.
Collins, C. John. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).
Collins’ position has remained consistent over the two decades or so since the first-mentioned article was published, and is reflected in the present chapter. The 2nd and 3rd titles actually reflect where the heat is in Genesis debates at the moment – not the age of the earth, the Genesis 1 days or evolution per se, but whether we should insist that Adam and Eve were literal people. Earlier in the present volume Collins cites N.T. Wright in a kind of cautious support for a historical Adam and Even (see p. 64 and footnotes), but that is not really discussed in the chapter under review.