Why I Am Not a Creationist, Even Though I Believe in the God Who Created Everything – Guest Blogger, Mary Vanderplas

Why I Am Not a Creationist, Even Though I Believe in the God Who Created Everything – Guest Blogger, Mary Vanderplas

Why I Am Not a Creationist, Even Though I Believe in the God Who Created Everything – Guest Blogger, Mary Vanderplas

 

“How old is the Earth?” he asked me, speaking in a tone of voice that suggested an agenda behind the question.  His tone of voice, coupled with the fact that this was the first time I had ever seen the man and that I had just introduced myself as a chaplain (he was a patient in the hospital where I work), tipped me off that his motivation was more to interrogate and test than to dialogue with me on the subject of the Earth’s origin.  “Hmm,” I responded, “is there a reason you’re asking this?”  “Well, you’re a chaplain, aren’t you?” he replied.  “Don’t people like you believe that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago?”

 

Even though I was taken aback by this man’s question and by the way in which he posed it, I could appreciate where he was coming from.  In fact, there are more than a few people “like me” – people who believe the Bible and who believe in the God revealed therein – who are “creationists” – i.e., people who believe not only that God created all things but also that the biblical account of creation recorded in Genesis is to be interpreted literally, leading to an understanding of origins and the development of life on Earth that is decidedly different from that of modern science.*  A 2012 Gallup survey found that 46% of Americans – an increase of six percent from two years earlier – believe that “God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.”  (cited in “Creation-Evolution Controversy” on Wikipedia)  So my interrogator wasn’t altogether unjustified in his assumption that I am a creationist.

 

The truth is, though, that I am not a creationist in the sense of the term that is popularly held in the culture.  As a Christian believer who considers the Bible the normative witness to the truth of God, I believe this central truth to which the Bible attests: God is the Creator of all things.  Everything that exists does so because of the will and power of God.  Nothing that exists is here strictly by accident.  This I hold as one of the tenets of my faith.  But I do not believe that the creation came into being in six literal days or that everything we see now in the way of species, along with those that have become extinct, was created by a direct act of God some 10,000 years ago.

 

My purpose in this blog is to address (briefly) why I think creationism – with its rejection of evolution and its emphasis on a literal interpretation of the creative narratives in Genesis – is misguided and why I am comfortable with evolution as a scientific theory of the development of life on our planet.  Let it be known that, even though I disagree with the stance of creationism, I am not out to bash those who embrace it.  I recognize that the subject is a controversial one, and that in terms of one’s faith and commitment to Jesus Christ, what one believes about how and when the Earth and life came to be is less than essential.  This is not to say that I don’t think the creationist stance is a hindrance to the church’s witness or that I don’t think that efforts should be made to overcome the ignorance of those who hold a view that denies the facts of science.  I do.  But I don’t think that either stamping out ignorance or breaking down obstacles to the church’s mission is legitimate grounds for bashing anyone and that in fact I am called to show love toward and pursue unity with fellow believers.

 

So let me begin.  I am not a creationist because I don’t think that believing in the God who created everything requires reading the creation narratives in Genesis as a literal scientific description of how God created the world and life.  Indeed, I think that to read these narratives as such is to misread them, to read them as something other than what they are.  I agree with those who assert that the author of Genesis did not set out to give a scientific description of the process by which the universe and planet and life came to appear; he set out, rather, to declare the ultimate origin of all that is.  The message of these texts is theological, not scientific – an affirmation that the world is how it is by the will and power of the living God.  In reading these texts, we need to understand the “scientific” language not as conveying scientific information but simply as a vehicle by which the theological message is transmitted.

 

A related reason why I reject a creationist stance is that I don’t believe that, in order to affirm the Christian doctrine of creation, one must reject the notion of continuous creation.  The language of the text of Genesis 1 and 2 suggests that an affirmation of God as having created all things “in the beginning” does not preclude his use of natural processes taking place over a very long period of time to bring forth the marvelous diversity of the species that we see (see Genesis 1:12, 27; 2:7, 22).  The Christian doctrine of creation is, in other words, consistent, in my view, with the scientific theory of evolution.

 

I am not a creationist because I think that the evidence for evolution is compelling and that to deny it is to wrongly reject a significant source of knowledge of this vast and wondrous world that God made.  While I do not consider myself a scientist (even though for a time earlier in my life I studied the science of psychology, before turning to theology), I enjoy reading and learning from those who study scientifically the origins of the universe and the Earth and the origin and development of life on our planet.  What the scientific community tells us, among other things, is that there is much evidence to support evolution as a comprehensive theory explaining how life on the Earth developed starting about three billion years ago.  It is hard to dispute, though some in the creationist camp don’t give up trying, what scientists in the fields of biology, molecular biology, paleontology, genetics, and others have uncovered about a common ancestor and about descent with modification through natural selection and other mechanisms.  While there are still unknowns and unsolved puzzles when it comes to evolution and the mechanisms of evolutionary change, these “gaps” in knowledge are not grounds for arguing that evolution is not a credible scientific theory.  Evolution is widely accepted in the scientific world; and in my view, those who persist in denying the truth that science has discovered – on religious grounds or on any other grounds – are choosing ignorance about this good creation.

 

Another reason why I am not a creationist is because those who argue against evolution often blur the lines between theology and science in arguing their views.  Proponents of the position known as “Intelligent Design,” for example, argue that the presence of unexplained-by-science biological complexity is proof of an intelligent Designer having brought it about.  But to do this, to invoke a supernatural explanation for a phenomenon in the physical world, is not science.  Science involves developing testable hypotheses and gathering data to support them.  Moreover, as many critics of this way of thinking have noted, to assume that something that has not yet been explained is unexplainable scientifically and to retreat to a supernatural explanation is to squelch the (God-given, I believe) drive for scientific inquiry (and to force this “god of the gaps” to recede to the margins as puzzles are solved).

 

There is more that I could say by way of articulating my rejection of the creationist stance.  Suffice it to say that, as a Christian believer who understands that the whole world is God’s world, I believe that it is important to accept the findings of science and to recognize that the data and theories of science are significant in helping us to understand God’s good creation.  Where creation-as-theology and evolution-as-science are concerned, I do not see any conflict between the two.  When either one transgresses the boundaries, however, trouble ensues:  Creationists bill their doctrine as science and push to teach it in the science classroom (while calling evolution “just a theory”); evolutionists argue that the facts of science prove that life is purposeless and that God doesn’t exist.

 

Suffice it for me to say, too, that, as a Christian believer, I do not read and contemplate in a vacuum the findings of science and the things that I see around me.  On the contrary, I see the world and I read science through the eyes of faith.  When I observe the world of nature, I see the intelligence and power and wisdom of the living God giving it its marvelous diversity and complexity and basic orderliness.  When I ponder the vast expanse of the universe, and read about its fundamental constants being exceedingly finely tuned, I see the hand of God setting and preserving the galaxies in their orbits and designing a world such that life would appear.  When I contemplate the human characteristics of consciousness and conscience, I see the personal Designer at work bringing into being a most complex and spectacular creation.  The understanding given to me by science only heightens my sense of awe and praise of the Creator!

 

 

*Granted, not all who are in the creationist camp believe that the universe and planet are a mere 6,000 to 10,000 years old.  There are “old Earth creationists” as well as “young Earth” ones, and a number of variations among those who believe that the events described in Genesis took place farther back in history than 10,000 years.  What these positions have in a common is that they attempt to harmonize Genesis, construed literally as a description of the events of creation, with the findings of modern science that the Earth is very old.

Comments
  • admin July 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I can be counted among those “people who believe not only that God created all things,” but I can’t be counted among those who believe “that the biblical account of creation recorded in Genesis is to be interpreted literally, leading to an understanding of origins and the development of life on Earth that is decidedly different from that of modern science.”

    I, too, “am comfortable with evolution as a scientific theory of the development of life on our planet.” However, I do still see it as a theory, one that probably has more right than it has wrong.

    Showing love toward and pursuing unity with fellow believers who teach/believe a literal reading of the Genesis account(s) is a beneficial attitude to have. There are some who would allow disagreement to be a dividing issue, but I think that they are a shrinking minority.

    I agree that “the author of Genesis did not set out to give a scientific description of the process by which the universe and planet and life came to appear; he set out, rather, to declare the ultimate origin of all that is,” but I’ve also seen some pretty incredible “science” in the text. For example, read the book “Genesis and the Big Bang,” in which Schroeder, the author, explains the subjective nature of time/space/matter, and what is to us billions of years is to God just hours – it depends on the perspective of the observer. He goes into great detail on the matter, and presents a very convincing scientific analysis. So, although I agree that “The message of these texts is theological,” I don’t necessarily think that we should assume the message is “not scientific.”

    We agree “that the evidence for evolution is compelling,” but we disagree “that to deny it is to wrongly reject a significant source of knowledge of this vast and wondrous world that God made.” One big problem I have with the theory of evolution is its utter dependence on uniformitarianism. It’s a legitimate concern that goes widely unaddressed. Having said that, I still think that the theory of evolution is on the right track – it just has a long, long way to go. It needs to “evolve.”

    I agree with what you say: “Proponents of the position known as ‘Intelligent Design,’ for example, argue that the presence of unexplained-by-science biological complexity is proof of an intelligent Designer having brought it about. But to do this, to invoke a supernatural explanation for a phenomenon in the physical world, is not science.” But I also think that to segregate science and philosophy is a mistake. We should encourage students to explore the overlap between these two disciplines, because that is where science is going anyhow, whether scientists like it or not. For example, quantum physics – there’s hardly a way to wrap your brain around some concepts that have been discovered in the past few decades without going philosophical, metaphysical, spiritual, etc. I think we need to at least be open to discussion instead of banning such discussion in science classes. But we should do it carefully, because of reasons you named, such as, “to assume that something that has not yet been explained is unexplainable scientifically and to retreat to a supernatural explanation is to squelch the (God-given, I believe) drive for scientific inquiry (and to force this ‘god of the gaps’ to recede to the margins as puzzles are solved).”

    Your guest blogs are always good. Thanks for the interesting read. I’m curious about the conversation you had with the man who asked your view of the age of the earth. How did that go?

    • Mary Vanderplas July 1, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      I don’t disagree that it’s a theory, but a theory in science is not an iffy proposition; it’s a powerful paradigm that correlates a wide array of data. But certainly it can’t be legitimately claimed that the theory of evolution is without holes or that it’s based totally on hard facts.

      I’m skeptical of all interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 that read these narratives in terms of modern science. The ancient writers of the Bible were not writing to teach science, and of course they knew nothing about modern science. I think that whatever “science” modern interpreters see in these texts is science that they’ve put into it themselves – and that this method of biblical interpretation distorts the intended meaning.

      You may be right about the assumption of uniformitarianism being invalid. I don’t think, however, that uniformitarianism precludes an acknowledgement of periodic catastrophic events.

      I like what you say about there being a connection between science and spirituality and, I agree, that encouraging dialogue between the two is healthy, that both stand to benefit from engaging the other. And I agree that having these kinds of conversations in science class wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – as long as it’s understood that science and spirituality are two different ways of understanding the world. The problem comes when religion tries to pass itself off as science – and when science makes judgments about religious belief.

      I actually had a good conversation with the man I referred to, though it turned out to be less about origins than about his profound disillusionment with religion. It might have helped him – who knows? – to learn that not all religious people are anti-science. I can hope and pray, anyway. 🙂

    • Lanny A. Eichert July 4, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Dear Ladies, the Genesis account does NOT stand on its own since through out the Holy Bible many references to the creative process are made making for the literal interpretation.

      Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God {Hebrews 11: 3}
      By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. {Psalm 33: 6}
      And God said {repeated often in the Genesis account of creation}

      You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to read that God simply verbally spoke and things happened. I mean, isn’t that the way Jesus stilled the storm and calmed the waves. Many miracles were accomplished merely by Jesus only speaking words. Think about it. Simple, isn’t it? So why do you get so complex to prove your heresies and why do you maintain you are believers?

      O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen. {1 Timothy 6: 20 & 21} But certainly it can’t be legitimately claimed that the theory of evolution is without holes or that it’s based totally on hard facts. Without hard facts means it is partially supported by what is NOT hard facts, in other words, invented ideas, theories, to fill in the holes. It is INCOMPLETE.

      You often neglect the purpose God has for giving the Holy Bible being what man is supposed to believe. We are supposed to believe God verbally spoke everything into existence, since that’s the way He explained it to a you think non-scientific society that advanced rapidly into rather modern city dwellers. You sure do short change the human intellect God created. You really want me to think you are believers?

      • Lanny A. Eichert July 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

        And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. {Mark 4: 39}

      • Mary Vanderplas July 7, 2013 at 6:51 am

        God “speaking the world into existence” – creating the world of nothing – doesn’t preclude creation as an ongoing act of God. The world God made isn’t fixed and static. The Creator’s work wasn’t finished in a single act “in the beginning.”

        • Lanny A. Eichert July 9, 2013 at 12:49 am

          Mary, Peace, be still was instantaneous just like God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

          So likewise is conversion:

          For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. {2 Corinthians 4: 6}

          If you haven’t experienced it, you wouldn’t know creation was a single six literal solar day work of God.

          Thus the heavens and the earth WERE FINISHED, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ENDED his work which he had MADE; and he RESTED on the seventh day FROM ALL his work which he had MADE. {Genesis 2: 1 & 2}

          Isn’t it evil to not believe the words God had deliberately caused to be written in His Holy Bible?

          That’s the way He explained it to a-you-think-non-scientific-society that advanced rapidly into rather modern city dwellers. God gave us His Book telling us what we are supposed to believe, so why will you not believe what God told us to believe? Do you magnify your wisdom/science above God’s?

          Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools {Romans 1: 22}

          Look, Ladies, on the third day God gathered the seas and made dry ground and called forth grasses and trees which require sunlight, but didn’t put the sun, moon, and stars around the earth until the fourth day. How long you expect natural grasses and natural trees to last without night and day cycles of natural darkness and natural sunlight? Look at the ORDER of what He created each day and answer WHY God didn’t first put the sun in the sky BEFORE planting grasses and trees. Wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do? He did it the way He did it to confound unbelievers, that’s why. That’s the same reason the fossil record is what it is, and Mary, I think you are beginning to lean toward the better catastrophic theories, right, with very short periods of time? Of course, it’d be a whole lot better if you’d just believe the literal Biblical record.

          • Mary Vanderplas July 10, 2013 at 5:48 am

            I’ve expressed my view that efforts to harmonize Genesis and science are misguided, that the narrative in Genesis needs to be read on its own terms, not in terms of modern scientific thought. Instead of trying to make sense of the text scientifically – even going to the lengths of calling into question the character of God, making God into a deceiver – the interpreter needs to understand it for the theological messages that the ancient author intended to convey. The author’s purpose in telling the story as he did was to affirm that the origin of all things is in the will of God and that the ultimate end of all things – the goal of creation – is fellowship with God (Sabbath rest).

        • Lanny A. Eichert July 9, 2013 at 1:06 am

          Now I know Alice is going to get smart and say no solar day for days 1 – 3 without solar bodies. See verse 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness means the solar bodies REPLACED the former light and darkness time sequence and there’s no reason to suspect the former was any different from the latter except for source.

          • admin July 9, 2013 at 10:05 pm

            Guess you’ve got me all figured out, huh?

      • Sue M. November 24, 2013 at 12:49 am

        Larry, I can’t comment on your ramblings because they make no sense to me. However as someone who has been privileged to know Mary as a pastor I can say with assurance you are completely off base in questioning her faith. Anyway, isn’t that Jesus’s job, not yours? By the way, starting with “Dear Ladies” set a patronizing tone which continues throughout your lectures. Before you proclaim that you didn’t mean to sound that way, be careful – Jesus hates hypocrisy. I suggest spending more time emulating the gospels and a lot less time trying to impress people if you are really concerned about salvation.

  • Lanny A. Eichert July 15, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Here’s an article on Adam’s and Eve’s learning curves. You might want to ponder a few things before thinking they were destined to fail the commandment to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil {Genesis 2: 17}. They had much to learn from the Lord God, the Best Teacher ever.

    How long were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? in Frequently Asked Questions About Creationism | Short Answers to Big Questions
    Genesis chapter one provides the account of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth while, at the end of that chapter, the creation of man and woman is introduced. The second chapter is more specific about the man – now named Adam – while, at the end of that chapter, some details are given about the making of woman, later named Eve. As the reader passes from chapter two to chapter three, we find in the very first verse Eve being tempted by the serpent at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The reader is inclined to think that the passage of time has been extremely short – say, a day or two or a month at most. After all, it is commonly argued, there were no children and Eve could not even have been pregnant or there would have been more than two souls involved in the business at the tree. However, Scripture does not say how long they were in the Garden, but there are reasons for thinking that it was likely several years.

    Surely everyone has seen artists’ impressions done in ink or oils of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam is always Caucasian, tall and muscular, sometimes with a full beard while Eve, though modest, is definitely not immature. These images unconsciously tend to color our interpretation of the text. Consider for a moment Adam created as a dark, pre-pubescent youth of, say, 12 years of age. Perfect in mind and body and living in a totally safe environment, Adam had much to learn from the Lord God as they walked in the cool of the day [Genesis 3:8]. Adam had to begin the human language by naming the animals. Adam had to know the signs and the seasons – essential later for planting crops. Adam had to know the star constellations and the message they proclaim. He had to know what was good to eat and what was good for medicine and, as a potential parent, he had to know how to handle the complex issues surrounding children passing through puberty. One thing more: the last Adam began his ministry at 12 years of age [Luke 2:42].

    While not inspired, The Book of Jubilees was written in the second century BC and claims that Adam and Eve were in the Garden for seven years [pp. 46-48]. If they entered the Garden with the appearance of being 12 years of age, as suggested above, it poses the following question: We have two nubile teenagers, naked and in an earthly paradise with God’s first commandment – “to be fruitful and multiply” – ringing in their ears [Genesis 1:28]. After seven years, why were there no children and Eve not even pregnant? The answer seemingly resides in the extreme longevity of pre-flood mankind. From the record in Genesis chapter five, we can deduce that the average longevity of the father [Enoch excluded] was 907 years, while the average age of the father for his first or principal son was 117 years. The Book of Jubilees maintains that Eve was aged between 64 and 70 years when she gave birth to Cain, her first child [p. 51]. Surely, the Book of Genesis is telling us that not only did people live much longer in that pre-flood world but they also matured much later.

    Reference. Charles, Robert Henry [translator]. 2005. The Book of Jubilees or the Little Genesis. Original publishers: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, UK. Published 2005 by: Ibis Press, Berwick, Maine.

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  • Fiorella Queirolo January 22, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Dear Chaplain Mary Vanderplas, there is controversy about this matter. But the Lord left His word not only to be read but to be reveal through His Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of Truth who gives us the conviction in our hearts and mind and it is in the spiritual realm not through our intelligence. It is God’ gifts to us not because we have gained it through our efforts but because in His mercy and through His love He has decide to reveal us His mysteries.
    These verses are to be shared with you: 2 Peter 20-21, 2 Peter 8 and PSalm 90:4.
    Human time doesnot apply to the Lord, really nothing can limit Him.
    He would give us understanding of all things in His perfect time. Keep the desire in your heart to know more of our Beloved God.
    More than wisdom is the flowing of His love through you to others. Continue working in that, and doing great!
    God bless you for your faithful and loving work for His Son Jesuschrist in the lifes of many people, and for your great help to bring up His Kingdom.
    In Christ Jesus,
    Sister Fiorella

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