Like Carolyn Arends, who wrote this thoughtful column on the subject in November’s Christianity Today, my view of the inspiration of scripture (shared by the United Methodist Church) does not require a literal six-day Creation. I don’t believe that scientific explanations for the origin of the universe and our place within it are at odds with a Christian understanding of Creation.
I also agree with Arends that arguing over the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 can become a rather depressing exercise in missing the point. The point is not to say how God created, but that he created and what it means. The genre of biblical literature matters:
[T]he Bible is not a book; it’s a library containing books of many different dates and genres. That’s why it’s not inconsistent to read Genesis 1 and 2 as an (inspired) ancient Near Eastern cosmology that poetically declares Yahweh to be the Creator, while reading the Gospels as (inspired) first-century, biographical-historical eyewitness accounts of events.
In other words, there’s no necessary relationship between rejecting a literal six-day Creation and denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As Arends points out, Genesis 1 and 2 are true and inspired, but not in the same way that New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are true. The difference is genre. Genesis 1 and 2 are true in the way that great poetry is true (but even more so because of the work of the Holy Spirit). As most of us know, poetry often speaks the truth more loudly and clearly than a dry recitation of historical (or scientific) facts.
Still, Arends rightly points out that “allowing the possibility of evolutionary creation is fraught with difficulty.” And she puts her finger on the biggest potential problem: that we have to distinguish “between the theory of evolution (which describes a process) and a philosophy of naturalism (which assumes that the process is all there is).” In my view, it’s easy to underestimate the enormity of this problem—because science has a way of overstepping its authority without anyone noticing.
When someone asks me, for example, “Do you believe in evolution?” I have to ask them, “What do you mean by ‘believe in‘?” Do I believe in evolution in the sense that if evolution happened, then God didn’t also create the world and everything in it? Then, no, I don’t believe in it.
Often, the premise of the question is flawed: It says if evolution, then not God—as if God weren’t really transcendent, as if God were simply a bigger, stronger version of ourselves—one actor among others on this plane of cause-and-effect—as if God were in competition with his Creation.
If that’s what “believing in evolution” means, count me out. I reject the philosophical materialism that lies beneath the question. All Christians should, even those of us who have no theological objection to evolution per se.