Archive for the ‘News & Views’ Category

In this final post, I attempt to distil the previous discussion into understanding the main underlying message of Genesis 1.

The key message of Genesis 1 is about…

We have seen that Genesis 1 is a description of the creation in technically simple terms, but in a formal layout that hints at creation as a temple.  The entire account shows God as the Father, Provider and the Future Promise of Israel, the focus of adoration, worship, intercession and trust.  The message of Genesis 1 is not:

This is the way God created the world: evolution is wrong

But rather:

This is the God who created the world: paganism is wrong

“The gods of the nations are idols but the LORD made the heavens” Ps 96:5

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We have just discussed how Scriptural references to the natural world are rarely to be taken as teaching about these subjects, but have other purposes.   In Part 4 I discuss how we can move from seeing  Genesis 1 as a description of natural world processes, to a contextual interpretation that makes sense for Israel and for us.  

What then is the intention of reference to the natural world in the creation story? 1.  A motif that acts as a reference point for Yahweh’s worship above all other gods.

We get some clues by looking at the context in which the natural world and the creation story is mentioned in the rest of the Old Testament.  For instance, when the Old Testament writers exhort loyalty to and worship of Yahweh they appeal to the creation story, and in particular to the standard motif of the waters, earth, and sky (heavens) that Yahweh, above all gods, separated, and then filled with creatures.E.g.:

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Part 3 discusses the factuality of descriptions of the natural world in Scripture generally, and whether it is necessary to see them as factual to interpret the passages.

What the lion said about St. Francis The purpose of reference to the natural world in the Old Testament

The closest approaches to naturalistic description in the Bible are:

the descriptions of the world in Job and Isaiah, which, however, are generally about God’s sovereignty (see below) the descriptions of the ant etc in Proverbs, and of futility in Ecclesiastes, but these are turned towards moral or philosophical issues, not scientific questions.

A passage of Scripture can mention or refer to some aspect of the natural world in the way in which the latter was understood when the passage was written.  But it is difficult to find any examples when this is the point of the passage or gives useful information about the natural world (outside the key passage of Genesis 1 where this is precisely what is being contested).  As an illustration of non-explanatory reference to the natural world, look at the depiction of St Francis below

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Part 2 deals with the hypothesis that Genesis 1 in particular is an historical account of events of creation.

The Genesis of the world

As soon as you view Genesis 1 as an historical account of the physical events of the creation of the world world or universe and mankind, some puzzling issues arise (I am indebted to John Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis 1 for the first of these):

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. Genesis 1: 3-5

Why does God call the light “Day”.  Why does he not call it light? Why does God separate the light from darkness?  Darkness is the absence of light, and so the two do not need separating?

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In this discussion I am taking another look at the early chapters of Genesis, on their own terms and as seen in the light of the rest of the Old and New Testaments. This is based on a talk I gave at my church.  Although I discuss basic science, I am doing this without reference to the accounts of Big Bang cosmology or evolutionary biology, which have often been seen as competing with the Genesis account.

This first part is, however, focused on a different perspective of Genesis 2-3, without any scientific reference.


Part 1.     Interpretations of Genesis.  The story of the Jews Part 2.    The Genesis of the world Part 3      What the lion said about St.Francis.  It’s not about ostriches. Part 4      Intention of reference to the natural world in Genesis 1 Part 5      The key message of Genesis 1 is…    Conclusion

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The description of new discoveries in science is often stated in terms of overturning old ideas or worldviews.  Copernicus and Galileo, we often say, overturned Aristotle’s views of the universe with the earth at its centre.  Einstein overturned Newton’s laws of motion.  This gives the misleading impression that all scientific knowledge, understanding and theories are unstable, and may be overturned in the next century.  As a result, scientific ideas, even solid ones, are mistrusted in today’s climate of uncertainty, conspiracy theories, postmodern distrust of authority and truth, and the popularized view that science equates to an atheist agenda (backed up by fundamentalists on both sides).

I stated in my book (page 53) that, although there is the potential to debate any scientific description of the universe or part thereof – science is open, not closed –  in practice, almost all advances in science have changed parts of our previous understanding and not the whole.  Scientific thought in the popular media at one time appeared to swing wildly between whether eating cholesterol, sugar or fat was good or bad for your health.  However, the research kept refining the debate in terms of where the cholesterol comes from, how much sugar, and what sort of fats may be good or bad for you, and the specific health effects involved.  Thus the scientific debate progressively narrowed, defining the situation in more and more detail.  People now rarely debate whether fats are good or bad for you, but more specific questions – e.g. whether omega-3 fatty acids protect against heart disease, and if so how much is beneficial.  Has the idea that eating fats is bad for your health been overturned?

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(N.B. Contents may differ from label)

The media portrays an ongoing battle between theism and atheism.  Listening to Richard Dawkins talk you get the impression of a vast gulf between the 21st century dispassionate and objective person of science, and the mystical and self-deluded religious believer.  Reading someone like Ken Ham, you get the impression of a yawning chasm, separating the 21st century godly Christian, honestly examining the evidence, and the atheistic scientist, desperately twisting and distorting the presentation of evidence to provide an atheistic theory of origins, deny God, and indulge in godless vice.

It was not always so.  Recently I found it interesting to come across (in N.T. Wright’s book: The New Testament and the People of God) an account of the arraignment and martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, AD 155 or 156.  Polycarp was asked by the Roman authorities to renounce atheism.  That’s right, atheism. → Read more

I have argued in my book that the highly similar genomes of chimpanzees and humans (approximately 94% identity in DNA) imply ancestral relationship.  However, people who support a creationist model commonly argue that humans and chimpanzees are genetically similar because they were created to be similar sorts of creatures, or made to a similar “pattern”.  Of course (their argument runs), two creatures with such physical similarities will have similar genes.   After all, two similar houses by the same architect will have similar plans.

I see two major flaws with such an argument: → Read more

Irreducible gaps in the Intelligent Design Record

I discussed in the three previous blogs why I do not think the core principle of irreducible complexity espoused by the Intelligent Design movement is a reasonable objection to macroevolution, and why I think the ID movement is not self-consistent. These arguments, and some others, can be summarized here.

Scientific explanation: ID does not rule out all possible natural explanations of its key items of ‘irreducible complexity’ (in spite of the apparent logic of its argument), so cannot invoke design as the only possible explanation. In particular ID does not consider: → Read more

The logic of intelligent design consists, as I illustrated before, of two sets of two alternatives.   The first set of alternatives states that either this complex structure developed naturally, or else it was designed.  The second states: If this structure developed naturally, then either all elements developed at once (highly improbable), or some elements developed in anticipation of the final structure (implicating that genes have purpose – impossible).   Since we can rule out both of these natural cause possibilities, then the structure must have been intelligently designed, as the following illustration indicates. → Read more