Beliefs about the truth of human origins
For many people from a very traditional Christian background the whole question of the origin of the universe, of life, of humans and even the nature of life, is accorded a special status that puts it beyond any human scientific enquiry or questioning. God revealed to Moses (as recorded in the book of Genesis) that the universe and earth were created in six days, and that animals were created ‘after their kind’ as fully differentiated species. This happened no earlier than 10,000 BC going by the genealogical timescale given in Genesis with some allowance for incomplete genealogies. Disease, predation and death originated from the Fall, when the first two humans, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. All human sin originates from this event.
If you come from this background you may believe that the scientific understanding of the world must fit into this scheme. Thus you would say that fossils of extinct animals such as dinosaurs are either fanciful reconstructions from tiny bone fragments, or were exterminated by the global flood of Genesis 6 and fossilised in the mud. All humans are descended from the only survivors of that flood: Noah, and his family. Estimates that the earth and stars are older than 10–12,000 years are based on flawed assumptions. Even if they appear true, the omnipotent God could easily have initiated the current state of radiation from the rocks, and made the light from stars travel as fast and as far as he wanted before he put the current laws of physics into place.
Christians with these beliefs claim that to say otherwise is to deny the Bible, which is the only infallible guide given to humans. Not only that, but the whole doctrine of human salvation through the death of Christ is linked into Genesis because the universal sin that requires forgiveness through Christ came from the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul referred to Adam and Eve as historical people, and Paul contrasts Adam’s legacy of sin and death with Christ’s legacy of forgiveness and life (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15). If Paul said this, inspired by God, then to deny the historicity of Adam is to deny the historicity of Christ.
According to this view there are two categories of truth: revealed truth and discovered truth. The former is recorded in the Bible and has primacy over the second, which is merely a flawed human effort to discover the truth about the world.
These beliefs are stated and defended with extraordinary vigour. Although the proponents claim the authority of Scripture for these beliefs, their activity is also driven by certain fears or perceived dangers. A fear that people will lose the sense of the importance and authority of the Bible. A fear that science, and how it is taught in school, will undercut the very things on which we base our beliefs – God’s revelation in Scripture and the historical truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A fear that the Bible will lose its coherence, its relevance and its uniqueness if science is given too much free rein over the subject of human origins in particular. A fear that once you stop interpreting one passage or book of the Bible literally, you are on a slippery slope to believing none of it. Ultimately it is a fear of betraying one’s faith and one’s God, a common and very understandable fear.
The more recently developed types of Old-Earth Creationism accept an old age for the earth and the universe, and accept that the scientific evidence for evolution on a small scale has become too solid to be ignored. They can accept microevolution, but state that there is no substantiated evidence for macroevolution. The most visible subgroup within this movement is the Intelligent Design movement, as described in the previous chapter.
The view of truth here is similar to the first group – revelation and discovery are two different means of acquiring truth, but in this case proponents of Intelligent Design appear to believe that scientific study of the natural world can be used to confirm and even prove revealed truth. People of this persuasion also find much to wonder and praise God for in the scientific discoveries of the universe. However there are serious issues, both biological and theological, with the Intelligent Design movement. Intelligent Design is vulnerable to attack by secular scientists for having conceded one battle (microevolution) to the theory of evolution while still believing in a ‘God-of-the-Gaps’. That is, according to Intelligent Design, the Designer repeatedly interrupted the natural process of events to create new animal groups or new complex structures. Intelligent Design proponents are also vulnerable to attack from ‘Young-Earth Creationists’ for giving science some sway over the Bible.
Does Intelligent Design harbour undercurrents of fear too? I suspect it does. A fear that having given way to evolutionary theory over microevolution they have embarked on a slippery slope. A fear that their own science is fragile and may not stand up. A fear that they have started interpreting the Bible according to science, and not vice versa. Perhaps even a fear that through ongoing discovery, God’s role in Creation will gradually diminish and be lost. Unless we take the initiative now (they may think), secular scientists will assume the monopoly on scientific truth. We will be left with meaninglessness.
Secular scientists probably have fears too, if they admit to them. The fear that in spite of believing that they know enough to dismiss the existence of God, the arguments might have a flaw somewhere – God might exist and hold them accountable. Maybe there is another form of truth.
All truth is God’s truth
To my mind all these beliefs exhibit a vulnerable and fragile understanding of truth. When we believe that there are different sorts of truth, and some have primacy over others, we have already begun to doubt some of the truth, or perhaps to confuse what truth is. We can view the universe from many viewpoints – there are many facets to our understanding. Ultimately, however, there is only one sort of truth – the sort that accurately describes what is, whether it is truth about the world or about the nature of God. Ultimately truth is one because the God of truth is one and is involved in everything there is. The only other way to think is that somehow we are experiencing a very complex virtual reality, so that there is a type of truth within our virtual reality, and a different type of truth for someone outside.7
The issue is, I believe, not so much that there are different sorts of truth but that we know truth with different levels of certainty. We perceive truth through a number of filters. We can know and appreciate truth, but our knowledge of the truth is inevitably imperfect. As Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthian church:
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
These filters are there whether the truth we are talking about is a vision of an angel, a word from God, the age of rocks, or the brightness of a supernova.
For instance, we each have a greater or lesser grasp of past history due to our nearness to the original events or words. The further from the primary experience we are, the more filters there are between the truth and us.