Dr. Keller & Dr. Boorse
BIO250: Origins Paper
Physically, how did God create species? Reconciling scientific and scriptural evidence which informs this question takes arduous work. I find intellectual laziness a tempting response to this question. However, answering it will hopefully draw us into awe for our Creator. This debate must not tear us apart from others. The answer is not a matter for dying over life and death. It is not an important enough question to call for division between those that hold differing opinions. That said, different scientific beliefs about the answer to this question do lead to different theological conclusions. I believe that God created the species that live today via evolution. He did this over billions of years.
We cannot observe God. He is invisible. At least, I cannot observe him such that I could study him empirically. That does not mean he never manifests himself into our physical realm. To say that he does not manifest himself physically would deny a basic tenet of Christianity, that God was incarnated, made into the flesh of man. Thus God’s supernatural acts are supernatural because they are not confined to the nearly constant laws of the universe, they do not happen in a predictable fashion, because he controls when they happen, and we cannot know for certain what he will do.
Genesis 1-2 primarily communicates truth about God and man’s nature, anthropological and theological truth. Ancient cultures had cosmologies which answer questions about man’s purpose, origin, nature, and who to worship. This is the cosmology of the Hebrews. Genesis was written to the post-slavery in Egypt Hebrews. This audience was more concerned with questions that cosmologies answer than questions about physical mechanisms that God used to create. Because the purpose of writing Genesis one was to inform the Israelites how live, apparently living based on the language of this passage leads sufficiently to knowing God. Living in such a manner which is consistent with Genesis’s description of the origin of species with language as simple as “God made the beasts of the earth,” and “the earth brought forth vegetation” is good enough to live in truth and holiness. The question of how God must not as important for helping us know how to live and for drawing conclusions about God’s character, because it was not included beyond the language that process of him vaguely “speaking”, “making” and “letting” things to bring forth life.
Secondarily, it communicates what has happened and how that happened, historical and scientific truth. The key question here is, how did God create species after the first cells? Genesis 1 reads, “let the earth sprout vegetation…the earth brought forth vegetation…let the earth bring forth living creatures…God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds” (ESV 1:11-12, 24-25). I interpret the phrase “brought forth” to inform the physical origin of creatures upon the earth. This makes me think that the earth was such that plants could evolve, or be “brought forth” by the earth. This is my strongest scriptural piece of evidence.
Looking at the grammar here supports my point. Creation of species is described in Genesis 1. When we ask who did this, I see two answers. Before the creation of vegetation is described in verses 11-12, God says “let the earth sprout vegetation.” Following this, the earth is the subject performing the “bringing forth” action of the creation of species, “the earth brought forth vegetation”. In verses 24-25 a similar, yet slightly different situation is described for the creation of creatures. God says “let the earth bring forth living creatures”, and this is followed by “and God made the beasts”. What distinguishes this from the description of the creation of vegetation is the subject doing the creation. In verse 12 the earth brings forth vegetation. In verse 25, God makes the beasts. Looking at these two examples, the earth appears to have a creative power similar to that which God possesses.
God causes natural forces to act. Although we can’t observe this, we can attribute the cause of rain to God based on the language in Genesis 2:5, “God had not caused it to rain” implying that God causes rain. This does not mean we cannot understand natural reasons and forces that cause rain. But acknowledging God as the one who causes rain is what I learn from this passage. Also, God has the power to direct trees to spring up out of the ground, “out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). This does not inform how God made the trees spring up, although my instinctual interpretation conjures an image in my mind of a tree magically, supernaturally springing forth from the ground more quickly than normal. When I step back to think through this, I realize that God could have worked the random element of seed distribution among trees.
Phillips (1991) describes the usage
of the word “day” in the Hebrew language as idiomatic. This is unfamiliar to
English speakers because we do not have idiomatic expressions for the word day.
Understandably we would misinterpret this as Moses perhaps meaning one day, as
we would interpret it. Later, in Genesis 2:4, Moses writes, “These are the
generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day
that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Even here he uses the word idiomatically.
These pieces of evidence, the language that is used in Genesis 1-2 does not go against a belief that evolution happened. The language for “day” is idiomatic, and in Hebrew is not always used literally. Also, most importantly, Genesis 1-2 was not written to primarily communicate historical or scientific truth. Melding this scriptural interpretation with scientific evidence ultimately leads us into praise of our Lord because of his incredible ability to create.
There are many pieces of evidence with which science informs us about the natural world. One logical to start with is evidence for the age of the earth. The rise in historical geology lead to increased questioning of the age of the earth (Wright 64, 2003). People have since struggled with the idea of an old earth, because it went against typical thinking at that time. However, Augustine believed in an old earth, and did not have major theological problems with that idea.
Here is evidence from radiometric dating that supports the old age of the earth. Radiometric dating is the idea that from knowing the half lives of various elements, especially Carbon 14, we can determine how old certain materials have been around based on their levels of degrading. The legitimacy of this technique is commonly criticized. Claims are made that this method is bunk, and state that the earth simply appears to be old.
Radiometrically dating Potassium-argon leads to a conclusion that the earth is 3.6 +/- 0.05 billion years old (Wiens 10, 2002). This range comes from possible errors that are taken into account. This has a half life of 1.26 billion years. This date, 3.6 billion years is the time that the element was formed from lava. The atoms do not leave the original location once the magma has hardened. The number of parent atoms (potassium-40) are measured, as well as the number of daughter atoms (argon-40). Then the ratio between the two is calculated to determine the length of time that they have been decomposing. The following equation is used to calculate the half life:
t = h x ln[1 + (argon-40)/(0.112 x (potassium-40))]/ln(2)
Using this, scientists calculate that this rock must be 3.6 +/- 0.05 billion years old.
Antagonists of evolution argue against it by describing its unlikelihood. It is still possible despite it’s unlikelihood. A claim of low chance is often made against evolution, stating that the process of a organism becoming more complex is too unlikely. However, if God puppeteers the randomness, he could have orchestrated the world to come into being the way it is.
An alternative approach to this problem is to say that God is big enough to use whatever the world became for his purposes. The prevalence of “he made” language in Genesis 1-2, makes me think that he had a more direct influence over the course of its development than simply thinking that he allowed it to evolve on its own and then made use of whatever resulted.
There is no difference between micro and macroevolution, this supports evolution. Looking
at a pool of cichlids and another pool of a different size cichlids depending on predators is an example of microevolution. If small changes can happen over a short period of time, there is no physical reason preventing larger changes could not happy.
The commonalities that all species have evidence evolution. These basic physical features that all organisms have in common—nucleic acid to carry information, the ability to reproduce, cells, plasma membranes, the ability to metabolize energy, protein. Every single living organism contains nucleic acid, and thinking that all species have the same ancestor. This makes me feel a closer connection to organisms of the earth, to think that I have the same physical ancestor as they do. It draws me to want to care for them more.
Although there may not be a problem with an old earth, people have posed theological complications stemming from evolution—that because death existed and was used to form man, there is a problem with a shift at some point from survival of the fittest to let’s love and have equality type morality. However, this could have changed when God breathed his Spirit into a hominid form to create the first humans.
In Genesis 1-2 God mandated man to have dominion over the creatures of the earth, to care for them. If thinking that all living species were created via evolution, and are thus connected to a common ancestor, that makes me feel more connected to the organisms of the earth, and thus builds up in me a desire to care for them. This seems to me a very beneficial result of believing in evolution.
Thinking that God created an earth which is governed by physical laws such that a process as intricate as evolution draws me to worship him. If he has the ability to do that, I am given a greater sense for how awe-inspiringly brilliant he is. Humans cannot not draw forth into imagination a natural system as detailed as the one God has made, let alone drawing forth that system into existence. Meditating on the grandeur of the natural history of species draws me to awe over God because I attribute creation of the system to Him. I am satisfied deeply by attributing the creation of a smart system to him. Part of the beauty of evolution is that we can comprehend it. We can imagine what happened physically over the last hundreds of millions of years for the diversity now present on the earth to come forth.
I want to incorporate evidence about the world from Christianity as well as science in order to frame my beliefs and worldview. I choose to do this by thinking about how different studies inform what I believe differently. As I’m trying to look for the answer as to how God created species, Genesis 1-2 do not bear much on my scientific understanding of the physical answer to this question.
The nature of science comes down to beliefs while the nature of Christianity comes down to belief as well. No amount of evidence can prove that something is true, but we can choose to believe that things are true. However, the idea is looming in my mind which says that we can definitively know the truth. Science does not lead to these conclusions. The Holy Spirit may move to reveal to someone truth about something. Belief in Christ in the first place is a choice that we make, or is it a gift which is given to us? If it is a gift, there are multiple ways of knowing, unless God is somehow involved in securing our decisions to believe certain things.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2011. Crossway, Wheaton, IL. 1664pp.
Phillips, P.G. 1991. “Are the Days of Genesis Longer Than 24 Hours? The Bible Says, “Yes!” Available from: (http://www.ibri.org/RRs/RR040/40genday.htm) Accessed: 19 November 2013.
Wright, R.T. 2003. Biology: Through The Eyes of Faith, revised and updated ed. HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY. 309pp.
Wiens, R.C. 2002. “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective, revised ed,” Available from: (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html#page%203) Accessed: 19 November 2013.
I wrote this paper for a class I took at Gordon College called Biology III: Plants, Ecology, and Evolution. This helped me fulfill the core requirement, The Scientific Enterprise. Below is the syllabus for The Scientific Enterprise.