More thoughts on Genesis and Creation

I had much more I wanted to say in my “Tough Texts Part 5” sermon than time allowed. If you read Genesis chapters 1 and 2 together, you’ll notice that there is not one but two Creation stories, each communicating a different aspect of God’s creation and its relationship to the Creator. The Adam and Eve story of Genesis 2:5 and following was likely composed before the more cosmic and poetic Creation story of Genesis 1:1-2:4. In fact, according to Walter Brueggeman at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Genesis 1:1-2:4 was likely written down during the time of the Exile, when many Israelites of the Southern Kingdom were forcibly relocated to Babylon—far from home, from the Promised Land, from God’s Temple (which had been destroyed). What does it mean to be God’s people now, when so much of one’s faith was tied to land and Temple, which were now taken away. Did Israel’s God, Yahweh, still love them? Had Yahweh abandoned them? Had the gods of Babylon proven more powerful than Yahweh?

Now, against the backdrop of these troubling questions, comes Genesis 1:1-2:4, which boldly confesses—in the face of evidence to the contrary—that Israel’s God is God over all Creation, and that the Babylonian gods are no gods at all. Think of how hopeful this scripture would be to Israel. For those of us who are not in physical exile, but are struggling against problems in our contemporary world, this text affirms that God has a plan for Creation. God can be trusted to make things right.

I got a question from someone about my feelings toward ideas like “intelligent design” (ID). First, let me say I’m no expert on the subject, but from my sermon you might infer that I have mixed feelings about it. While I strongly affirm that God created the universe, I also argue that God did so regardless of the extent to which evolution “explains” how. God can create, and evolution can work, and the two are not in conflict or competition with one another. See my discussion regarding “levels of explanation” in my sermon.

I fear that the ID proponents are offering the latest spin on the “God of the gaps” argument, which is unnecessary and fatally flawed. ID proponents say that the human eye, for instance, is an instrument of “irreducible complexity”: it it so complex that there is no way to account for its coming into being through natural processes alone. God must have given evolution a nudge here or there. O.K., fine. Let’s say that scientists can’t adequately explain the eye’s development. (I’m not a scientist; I don’t know whether they can or not.) But doesn’t it seem possible or likely that some day they will? In which case, one more gap closed. One less reason to believe that God created.

Do you see the problem? ID falls victim to an either/or view of Creation: either God or evolution, but not both. This viewpoint will forever put believers in a place of fearful defensiveness, waiting for the other scientific shoe to drop. Both ID proponents and philosophical naturalists (atheists who believe that there is nothing beyond this physical world) accept this same either/or premise. Richard Dawkins said dismissively that even if there were a god, he is at least very lazy, since evolution did all the work. This premise is absolutely mistaken. Let me quote from John Haught’s book regarding multiple, non-competing explanations:

“One explanation for the page you are reading is that a printing press has stamped ink onto white paper. Another is that the author intends to put certain ideas across. Still another explanation is that the publisher asked the author to write a critical response to the new atheism.”[1] These are mutually compatible and non-competing explanations. Evolution and God’s Creation are the same kinds of explanations. Does this argument seem reasonable?

Finally, someone texted me a question regarding the meaning of humankind’s “dominion” over Creation. This is one of those tricky words that has been used to justify the most excessive kind of exploitation of the earth and its resources, including the willful or negligent destruction of non-human life. But dominion is not the same thing as “domination.” We are to have dominion over Creation in the same sense that Christ has dominion over us. (See Mark 10:41-45 for a Christ-like understanding of dominion.) We humans, who are God’s image-bearing creatures, are to act gently and respectfully toward the rest of Creation. We have a shepherding role to play, ensuring that the promise and potential of this good Creation is realized, even as we recognize Creation for what it is: God’s gracious gift to us. We do not own it. It is not simply ours to use as we see fit. Besides, this scripture tells us that we are a part of it, connected to it, in solidarity with it.

[1] John F. Haught, God and the New Atheism (Louisville: WJK, 2008), 84-85.


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