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Where are the Transitional Fossils?

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February 1, 2013 Tags: History of Life

Today's video features Kelsey Luoma. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: This video and text were originally posted November 10, 2011.

A common argument leveled against the theory of evolution is that scientists have not been able to produce the expected transitional fossils that show the change of one species into another. If evolution were true, wouldn’t there be instances of clear intermediary species, like, for example, a species that was half whale and half hippo to show the transition between those two? In this BioLogos podcast, Kelsey Luoma addresses this misconception about what a transitional fossil actually is. Rather than a mix between two related species, transitional fossils point back to the common ancestors that modern species share. The fact is that the number of transitional species is massive and it grows with each passing year. Given the rarity with which organisms are actually fossilized, the amazing thing is actually the completeness of the fossil record, not its incompleteness. The transitional species story strongly supports, and certainly does not disprove, evolutionary theory. 1

1. To hear the full audio clips which have been referenced go to:

An audio only version of the podcast can be downloaded here.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.


Kelsey Luoma is a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, where she received a bachelor's degree in biology. She plans to continue her education in medical school. As an evangelical Christian and student of biology, Luoma is very interested in resolving the conflict between faith and science. She has spent two summers working as a student intern for BioLogos. In the future, she hopes to serve internationally as a physician.


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Caleb Backholm - #76758

February 18th 2013

Robynhood. I liked your response. Although I don’t agree with all of it,  your comment “One this is for certain… when we see the unfathomable vastness of the created universe, it’s hard to believe in a small God” is spot on.

My main disagreement is that you think this “old-age” of the earth would be deceptive on God’s part. We agree God is not deceptive. But I argue that you are mis-reading, not that He is deceiving.

For example, you probably believe the Lazarus story. If you met Lazarus after Jesus’ raised him, you would see no evidence that he had been dead. You would hear the stories, but the science would say otherwise. Was it “deceptive” of Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead? Was he trying to trick people? Certainly not. He chose to bring him back to life, for his own reasons.

Even better, Jesus came to earth as a baby. Was that deceptive? He was never actually 6 months old, but he looked that way at one point. Do you feel tricked that he didn’t come looking like a crippled-up, blind, ancient old man? That’s what the Bible is for. It tells us that even though he looked like a normal baby from the way we measure these things, he wasn’t. He was of infinite age.

By the same token, God is capable of creating light in anywhere he wants. I don’t feel tricked at all.

I can see where someone who doesn’t believe in God might feel that way, but it’s hard for me to see how a Christian could feel deceived. Perhaps God actually had you specifically on mind, and your viewpoint, when He very clearly spelled out that he created the light before the stars, not the other way around as you believe. He created the starlight on earth, then drew a lightbeam backwards and placed stars at the end of the beams of light. It is interesting that almost none of the starlight we see (excepting the sun) was ever at the stars. It originated in the void of space at the moment of creation.

I don’t think it’s deceptive. But I do think it’s kinda cool.


beaglelady - #76760

February 18th 2013

Even better, Jesus came to earth as a baby. Was that deceptive? He was never actually 6 months old,

 

Baloney.  After the Incarnation he was at one point in time a 6-month-old human infant.  Time intersected with Eternity.


Caleb Backholm - #76762

February 18th 2013

True. But he was also God. My point was he was not exactly what he appeared to be. And just because most of the people around him didn’t understand who he truly was, or properly “measure” him, doesn’t mean he was being deceptive.

He very clearly told them who He was. When that information was added to the mix, the truth became clear to those wo were willing to see it.


beaglelady - #76764

February 18th 2013

No, you said he was never actually 6 months old.  And in the flesh he really was at one point 6 months old.   Very God of Very God, yes. But also at one point 6 months old. 


robynhood - #76767

February 18th 2013

My point was he was not exactly what he appeared to be.

Perhapse it is more that he did not exatly appear how we expected him to.


robynhood - #76765

February 18th 2013

Caleb:  Again, thank you for the reply and I am glad we have some common ground in our beliefs about God.

Your point about what exactly would constitute deception is a good one, although I disagree with both of the examples you site. 

I think your example about Lazarus is the stronger of your two arguments, and I agree that a miracle of this type need not be considered deceptive.  However, the fact is that there were people around to observe the miracle of Lazarus being raised.  They observed that he died and they observed that Christ raised him. Thus, this miracle can be considered a case of God demonstrating his omnipotence, but he was not asking the observers to not believe their eyes.  If Lazarus was actually raised (his body restored), then there is no deception here.  It would only be a deception if Lazarus only looked like he was alive again, when in reality, he remained dead.

Your example about the Incarnation of Christ is more problematic.  The majority of Christians believe that Christ was both fully man and fully God.  This is a paradox, of course, and is not easy for anyone (scientist or theologian) to understand or to explain.  There are Christians, like yourself, who believe that Jesus maintained his godly omniscience while he was here in the flesh on earth.  Other Christians believe that, just as his physical body was limited to that of a child (and then a man), so was his mind (and knowledge) limited to that of a first-century Palestinian.  I agree with the later of these two views.  Therefore, I strongly object to your statement that “He was never actually 6 months old”.  I think he was precisely 6 months old at one point, and also had the mental abilities of a 6 month old human.  If Jesus only looked 6 month old to everyone around him, but actually wasn’t (as you suggest) then I would consider that deceptive.

Getting back to how these arguments relate to the age of the earth, I agree that God could have created light anywhere he wanted to.  In your post, you incorrectly suggested that I believe God created stars before light.  I believe that God created the laws of of physics first and then unfolded his universe via the process scientists refer to as, ‘the big bang’.  So, I believe the order was more like; God, then Laws of Physics, then energy/matter/fundamental particles/photons(light), then stars/planets/etc.  Interestingly enough, this is probably similar to the order you believe. The difference is that you believe it happened all at the same instant, and I believe it has been unfolding for billions of years.

By the way, if star-light was the only evidence that the universe was old, I would be more likely to agree with your view.  But star-light is just one of many evidences that the universe is old. 

The bottom line is that, because I believe that the Universe was created by good and perfect God, if his Universe looks old, then I believe it is old.


beaglelady - #76769

February 18th 2013

I also addressed Caleb’s question about created light—it’s at the bottom of page 1. 


Caleb Backholm - #76778

February 18th 2013

I guess I would mirror your last statement, and say if the earth looks young, it is young. That is where the argument kicks in for me.

Civilization and agriculture started around 6 to 10 thousand years ago. Maybe we could strectch that by a bit, but current evolutionary theory tells us that the human brain really hasn’t advanced greatly in the last 100,000 years. Our knowledge has, but capacity hasn’t. I agree. Is it really likely that for tens of thousands of years, man couldn’t figure out how to read and write? Or grow plants from seends? Seems unlikely. Prehaps the reason man figured that out 10,000 years ago, is because man was created 10,000 years ago. It makes more sense to me.

Did you know that Carbon 14 has a half life of 5,700 years? Assuming a constant decay rate,  C14 cannot be present in a substance more than 250,000 years old. And yet it is found in rock layers believed by some to be millions of years old. This points to a younger age.

Most evolutionists believe that dinosaurs died out before Adam. The author of Job describes seeing some sort of dinosaur-like animal in two different places. Human prints and dinosaur prints have been found together in hardened rock. Dinosaur bones have been found with cancerous disease. Clearly there was no cancer before Adam and Eve, so those bones came in the last 10,000 years, give or take. Or did God create cancer and disease and say that it was “good?” The same word used by Jesus when he said, “Why do you call me good. Only God is good”? Seems a theological obstacle too high to me.

Like everything else in nature, the earth’s magnetic field is decaying. At it’s current rate, the is no way it’s existed for a billion years. Theories have been offered to try to explain how it might “regenerate” or whatever, but the easiest answer is it’s not that old.

Now 10,000 years seems very old to me, but not to some I guess. If the universe looks “10,000 years old,” maybe that’s because it is. Or is God trying to trick me into thinking it’s young, when it’s actually old?


robynhood - #76784

February 19th 2013

Caleb:  First, let me say I appreciate the polite tone of your dialogue with me.  Some are inclined to get quite worked up about these issues, making reasonable discussions difficult.

Second, you might be surprised that I once believed all of the evidences for a young earth that you have mentioned here.  When I was younger, I was a fan of Henry Morris and the Creation Research Institute and was convinced that all of mainstream science was a conspiracy to rule out the existence of God.  This all began to change when I went to study science at a Christian university.  There I learned that those evidences that I had believed had been discredited, and that the vast majority of the scientific evidence pointed to an old earth.  I began to realize that the Creation “Science” that I had been so inspired by was actually a collection of carefully selected bits of information that painted a misleading picture about the world around us.

Of course, my views didn’t change over night, and I admit there was discomfort in discovering that the things I had previously believed were incorrect.  I mention this because I don’t expect that anything I could say in a forum post will suddenly convince you that the earth is old, or that evolution is true.  And that isn’t really why I’m here anyway.  I understand that it is a personal journey and you must take your time and come to your own conclusions.

That said, I hope you will look into the many evidences from mainstream science that support the conclusion that the universe is old.  That you are here participating in the BioLogos forum is a good start, and I am sure that others on this site can point you in the direction of some helpful resources.


beaglelady - #76788

February 19th 2013

Caleb,

If Jesus was never 6 months old, what do you make of Luke 3:23, which states that Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his ministry?


lancelot10 - #76973

February 28th 2013

Also the salt in the sea is not dense enough for the 4 billion supposed years of earth’s existance.   C14 is also found in diamonds , coal and oil when there should be none.

Polonium rings in granite means that this igneous rock was never molten.

There must be hundreds of what scientists call nonconformities which if added together deal the death blow to the long ages required for Darwins crazy hypothesis .    What about the mountains all over the world which are supposedly hundreds of millions of years older on the sediment they rest on - do these mountains get blown around ??


Caleb Backholm - #76796

February 19th 2013

Beaglelady. I do believe Luke 3:23. My greater point was asking if it was deceptive of God to make Jesus’ humanity more obvious than his diety? I was saying it wasn’t.

A similar question for you. What do you make of Gen 1:5 that states the first day of creation lasted for a morning and an evening? And then says it six more times. Do you take it at face value as I do Luke 3:23? That is very clearly 24 hours (unless you want to argue 12 hours, but the Jewish “day” shows 24 is correct). Is there an example in the Bible of God being any more deceptive than that? Why say “morning and evening” when he meant “the first billion years?” Just say “billions of years.” It appears far more deceptive than the speed of light point you raised.  

And there in no way “day” meant “millions of years.” Plants were made a “day” before the sun. Plant evolution on earth into something other than plants is scientifically impossible anyway; but the idea that plants could have even survived let alone “advanced” without the sun is doubly impossible (if such a thing can be.)


beaglelady - #76799

February 19th 2013

Moving the goalposts again. Let’s review what you really asked

Even better, Jesus came to earth as a baby. Was that deceptive? He was never actually 6 months old, but he looked that way at one point.

No it wasn’t deceptive. he was once  6 months old. He didn’t just look that way, he really was a 6-month-old infant. 

And I don’t take Genesis literally.  Genesis us about God, creation, and relationships,  sin, salvation, and more.   That’s a lot. 


robynhood - #76804

February 19th 2013

Beaglelady:  You and I seem to agree on many things, but I’m afraid I do not agree that Caleb should be accused of “moving the goalposts” here.  Instead, I think he is merely clarifying the point he tried to express earlier (albeit quite awkwardly).  He may be changing his words, but he does not appear to be changing his view. 

I believe that when he stated, “...he [Jesus] was never actually 6 months old”, Caleb was really trying to say something more along the lines of “...Jesus was never the equivalent of a 6 month old”.  I take it this was his way of claiming that Jesus possessed the omniscient mind of God disguised in a 6-month old body.  And while I find his clarifying remarks in the last few posts helpful, I still disagree with this view.

Anyway, I think he deserves the benefit of the doubt in this case, so as to encourage a constructive dialogue.


Eddie - #76805

February 19th 2013

robynhood:

I appreciate your peacemaking attitude.

I’ve stayed out of this exchange, but I might be able to clarify something.

Christian theologians (at least, those who operate within the historical orthodoxy of the first 16 centuries of the Church’s life) distinguish between the Son, who, as a member of the Trinity, is immortal, and the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was mortal.  Yet these two, though conceptually distinct, are joined in one being, Jesus Christ, who is described as “wholly God and wholly man.”  “Wholly man” is understood to mean that, his divinity notwithstanding, Jesus was not “God in disguise, only pretending to be a man,” but a real man, who lived, breathed, ate, evacuated, could be tired and sleepy, and aged and grew like any other man.  Thus, Jesus, understood as Jesus, was certainly at one time 6 months old, though the divine Son, whose eternal life he expressed in earthly terms, was countless eons older than that.  

The notion that Jesus was a man in appearance only was around fairly early; its classical expression was Docetism, which was condemned by the major authorities of the early Church.  So to say that Jesus was never six months old is to imply the truth of a heretical doctrine rejected centuries ago.

The question of the knowledge of Jesus—whether, due to his divine nature, he knew things that a normal man of his time would not know, e.g., the composition of stars, or how the pyramids were built—is a different one, and requires its own discussion.  But the question of his physical humanness admits of no dispute.  To deny it is to step out of historical Christian faith altogether.  Jesus was definitely at one time 6 months old, and had the experiences of body and mind associated with that age. 


robynhood - #76809

February 20th 2013

Eddie:  Thank you for helping to clarify this issue for me.  Having a limited knowledge of the history of Christain Theology, I was unaware of this alternate view of the incarnation.  Very interesting.  I wonder if Caleb is aware that his statement reflects a view associated with Docetism.  Your post also helps me undestand some of Beaglelady’s comments on this topic.


Steven Opp - #76806

February 19th 2013

Robynhood,

Thank you for your congenial and unassuming tone in this forum.

I certainly see your point that there are observable things in the universe which support an old-earth theory, such as the speed of light or other methods of dating things. If there were not compelling reasons for seeing the world that way, it wouldn’t be so popular.

The problem on the observation end are that there is also a lot of compelling evidence that suggests the earth could not be so old. Using uniformitarian methods, that is, calculating the age of the earth based on how long certain processes take today, leaves many things unaccounted for and often doesn’t compute. For example, if the earth is billions of years old, there is not enough sodium in the oceans. The present level would accumulate in less than 100 million years. Similarly, there is not enough helium in the atmosphere, there is only about 1/2000th as much as there should be if the earth is that old. As far as dating elements, there are too many anomalies for us to firmly rely on this type of dating. For example recent lava flows date thousands of years old. In addition, there are also thick coal seams and large conglomerate deposits which don’t fit in with uniformitarian predictions. And there is geologic strata, thousands of feet thick, that are too tightly bent to have taken long periods of time to form.

Those are just a few observable things in the world which contradict a world that is billions of years old. Now are the examples I gave air-tight, irrefutable evidences of a very young earth? Not at all. Maybe even some of them can be argued against quite well. But my point is that both sides of the debate have their observable things which support their theory. And, in agreement with others in this forum, there is much “hearsay”, or gimmicks in the debate. But they are on both sides of the debate. Each side has their professors, researchers, and observable data which are cited and used to support their theory.

For these reasons, I am not ready to stop taking Genesis at face value. I believe it was inspired by the one who was there at creation, God himself, who observed everything that happened and then told us about it.

I will end with addressing your comments about the earth looking old but not being old. Why would God trick us like that? Here’s what I would say: Adam was created out of the earth but as a grown man. He looked older than he was. That’s just how it was. God wasn’t trying to trick anyone, that’s just how he made Adam. Jesus turned water into wine. It’s a miracle. Something which appears old, but was brand new. Same with the loaves and the fish. God does miracles and he also works through “natural” processes (what I would call miracles we’re used to).
And while God would never lie to us to harm us, he is certainly interested in challenging and maturing us. Yeah, there are things in the universe which, if using our current calculations, make it look really old. But there are other things which make that seem impossible. There is mystery there. But we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a lot of mystery to the way things are, treasures and secrets for us to unlock and discover. It makes us wise and gives us glory as we go through the process, or as Proverbs 25 says: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”


robynhood - #76808

February 20th 2013

Steven:  Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply.  I can see that, despite our different views about the interpretation of Genesis, there is much we agree on.

First, let me commend you for acknowledging that there are compelling reasons for holding the old-earth view.  When I held the young-earth view, I’m afraid I was not sensible enough to do the same.

Likewise, I will acknowledge that there are some observations that appear to support the young-earth view also.  Science naturally involves taking in all the data (which sometimes looks incompatible at first) and putting together a coherent picture of the physical world. When all the evidence is considered, I find that the old-earth evidence far outweighs the young-earth evidence.  Hence, I believe that the evidences that may initially seem to support a young-earth view, will eventually be reconciled to the old- earth view.

Despite my views about how God created us, I can certainly agree with you that “God is interested in challenging and maturing us.”  Well said.


Caleb Backholm - #76810

February 20th 2013

I think Steven lays out my point of view fairly well above. And also believe it’s important to look at all the evidence and hold opinions with humility. I know odds are I’m wrong about something, I just don’t know which thing it is.

On balance, I think the scientific and theological evidence points to a divine creator and a “recent” creation. The question I was addressing, before we somehow ended up talking about goalposts and Jesus’ divinity, was if God was intentionally fooling us.

I really think the best example of this is on “young earth” side, not the old-age side. Genesis very clearly talks about six “days” of creation. That seems pretty clear. But interestingly enough, it seems as if God knew one day the definition of “day” would be questioned here. Is there any other spot in the Bible that the author bothers to define what “day” means? I can’t think of one.

It’s as if God is driving home the point here. “I created light the first day. Oh, and in case you don’t know what “day” means, that’s the time it takes for one evening and one morning to go by.” And then he goes on to say the EXACT SAME THING five more times. It seems like He’s really making a point here and wants it to sink in. I’m not sure why it mattered so greatly, but it’s remarkable really. And hard to ignore.

So for a person who believes that the Bible is the inspired word of God, it creates a huge obstacle theologically to then say, “Naw, he actually meant “not day” when he said “day.” If that isn’t “tricking us,” what is?

I can say, if I’m wrong about this, as soon as we get to heaven, you and I are marching up to God and asking Him what’s up with using the term “morning and evening” when you meant “around a billion years?” 


Eddie - #76811

February 20th 2013

Mr. Backholm:

You’re right to say that “day” did not mean “around a billion years.”  The author of Genesis was not thinking about “geological ages” when he wrote “day.”  However, you are still misunderstanding the use of the term “day” within its narrative context.  You take Genesis 1 to be a report.

As long as Genesis 1 is understood as a report, it cannot be reconciled with any version of evolution, and even old-earth creationism becomes very difficult to maintain.  If I thought Genesis 1 was intended as a report, I’d probably become a young-earth creationist.  But I don’t think that is how it was intended.  

It is possible to believe that Genesis 1 is the inspired word of God, and that it is entirely true in what it teaches, but that it was not intended as a report.  For those who have come to that conclusion, the age of the earth (and the age of the human race) becomes of no consequence, and even the alleged conflict between Genesis 1 and a process called “evolution” vanishes.  (Though, I must add, the conflict between the Genesis 1 and the Darwinian understanding of evolution remains.  Enter ID.)  


robynhood - #76824

February 20th 2013

Caleb:  It seems that our different views of the Bible are at the heart of our disagreement  here.  We likely have very different ideas about what the Bible actually is and what it is meant to do.

If I believed (as you do) that Genesis 1 was a direct, word-for-word dictation from God, teaching us that He created the world over the course of six earth-days, then I would agree there would be reason to doubt the old-earth view. 

What I actually believe is that Genesis 1 is an ancient story of creation, written by men who were inspired by God, but were not simply recording a transcript of God’s direct communication to them.  I believe it was also written to be understood by people of that ancient time period, and was not written with our modern scientific point of view in mind.

Because I have a different idea about what it means for a writing to be inspired, I have very different expectations about what the Bible is meant to do for us.  For example, I do not believe that the Bible is meant to give us a complete and coherent world view (historically, scientifically or even theologically).  I also do not believe that the Bible is meant to be an encyclopedic guide book that will answer all of life’s questions.  Instead, I agree with a much simpler ‘Christ-centric’ view of the Bible as expressed here by George MacDonald: 

The one use of the Bible is to make us look at Jesus, that through him we might know his Father and our Father, his God and our God.


Joriss - #76812

February 20th 2013

Another point about creation. If evolution is true, Eva was never made from Adam’s rib. Than the woman is not from the man (1 Cor. 11:8) and not for the man (verse 9).
It affects the relation between man and woman as written by Paul, based on the creation as is told to us in Gen. 1
And from that it affects the relation between the man and Christ as written in 1 Cor. 11:3: the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man.
So the evolutiontheory undermines, as far as I can see, these relations because they are based on the way and order of God’s creation as told us in Gen. 1. Now the relationship between man and woman is very precious to God, since it is a symbol of the relationship of Christ and his Church. Shouldn’t we be very cautious to not undermine the right view on these things, lest we do great harm to the church?


Steven Opp - #76834

February 20th 2013

Questions for Eddie and Robyn:

How can we say the Bible was not intended to be read as a report as well as a narrative? That’s a pretty big claim which must not be thrown out lightly (I’m not accusing anyone of that, but pointing to the weightyness of such a claim). Are we such experts in ancient Hebrew poetry/history that we can say Genesis 1 wasn’t meant to be taken as chronological history? (and the language experts who do exist, Christian and secular, show us that the language structure suggest it was intended to be taken at face value anyway). If you are correct that the creation story is poetry, when does Genesis stop being poetry and start being history? If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, did Noah? Abraham? Moses? Where does history enter the discussion? All the geneologies: so-and-so begot so-and-so and lived x many of years, etc, is that poetry? On what authority can anyone say when it says things happened in a certain order that it didn’t mean just that? The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it is always surprising us with how multidimensional and timeless it is. Why limit the text in Genesis, or anywhere for that matter, with an either/or poetry vs. history or narrative vs. report bifurcation?


Eddie - #76836

February 20th 2013

Steven Opp:

If I succeed in educating you with this reply, will that make it an “Opp Ed”?  

I’m not laying down, as a truth from on high, that Genesis 1 cannot be interpreted as a report.  I’m giving you my sense of Genesis 1, after years of studying it, both in English and in Hebrew, and after years of consultation of Biblical scholarship from a wide range of perspectives, including Jewish, Catholic, Anglican, liberal Protestant, conservative Protestant, etc.  Others, who have studied Genesis with equal intensity, may have a different sense of the text.  Such disagreement is not at all uncommon in interpreting any ancient literature.  So take this as the view of one scholar, who is aware that all interpretation is subject to revision in the light of new information or new perspectives.

You are worried that if Genesis 1 is regarded as non-historical, then a domino effect will knock out the rest of the Bible.  But that need not be the case.  Even texts that are not meant to be historical in every respect may contain historical elements.  Thus, instead of some Biblical texts being utterly “fictional” and others being “historical,” it may well be that most Biblical texts are either history tinged with non-historical elements, or non-history incorporating historical elements.  There may be a continuum of blendings all the way from nearly pure non-history to nearly pure history.  

I would say that Genesis 1 is almost wholly “non-historical” in character, in the sense that the author is not trying to give a photographic representation of the stages of creation, but rather, a structural representation of the way things in the world hang together—logically and physically presuppose and depend on each other—presented in the guise of a chronological narrative.  Of course, in a broad sense it is “historically” true:  God did in fact in the past create the heavens and the earth; they did not arise though the blind interactions of chance and natural laws in a universe without Mind.   But as for the rest, the tight literary structure, the connection with later literary motifs in the Bible, etc., convince me that it was never intended as a report.

I can’t “prove” that; nothing can ever be proved in the study of literature.  It’s a judgment, and judgments are based on experience of other texts (both Israelite and non-Israelite), poetic sense, narrative “feel,” philological competence, general wisdom, and many other intangibles that are not susceptible of objective measurement.

There are things one can read on the non-historical character of Genesis 1.  Denis Lamoureux (whom I disagree with about some things, but not about Genesis 1) has some good material in his books and on his website, and he is a practising evangelical (even pentecostal, he says) Christian, who affirms all the New Testament miracles, so he’s no stereotyped liberal.  I’m told that John Walton’s books are good.  I’m told also that Jack Collins has a good book with an old earth perspective.  And on more general questions about how to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, there is Alter’s book on the art of Biblical narrative, which got the modern “holistic reading” movement off the ground about 40 years ago.  And if we look to older writers, the great evangelical writer C. S. Lewis, whose faith is generally not in doubt, does not appear to have taken the early stories in Genesis as straight reports.  The Roman Church, as well, does not insist on the literal sense of every word in Genesis (though it insists on a real historical Fall of a first couple).  I think all of this shows that interpreting Genesis 1 as non-historical will not inevitably destroy one’s faith.


robynhood - #76837

February 20th 2013

Eddie:   Great reply to Steven’s questions above.

Steven:   I am not an expert in ancient Hebrew or an educated Biblical Scholar by any account.  In my post above, I am simply explaining what I believe.  However, there are many Biblical Scholars who do advocate the view that Genesis 1 is primarily poetic/mythical in nature and I agree with their conclusion.  (Peter Enns is a well-known example.)

Some questions I would ask in return: What’s wrong with poetry?  Is there a sense in which poetry can be ‘true’?  (After all, we seem to find a great deal of truth in the parables of Jesus.)

Also, do you think God can use or work through a person to accomplish his divine purposes?  If you do, then do you also believe that he could use literature written by a person (but not dictated to them) to do the same?


Caleb Backholm - #76838

February 20th 2013

Eddie and Robyn-

I appreciate the fact you have actually put thought and effort into your answers. Although we still disagree on some points, I’m actually quite ok with that. I enjoy the discourse, and I especially like it when someone can actually lay out their view, rather than just attacking mine. Although I have pretty thick skin and don’t mind being attacked, it’s not very informative. (As they say, any fool can criticize, and most fools do.)

I’ll continue to explore as I’m sure the other recent posters here will. My concern is that your view of creation would lead you away from Christ; that if you don’t believe Genesis 1, neither will you believe John 3:16 or Romans 6:23. That you’ll decide it’s a nice story but with the theological relevance of Harry Potter. 

Interestingly, that appears to be your same concern, but in reverse. So I do find that comforting. If your search and mine, in spite of the errors, leads us to Christ and His glory and into a deeper relationship with Him, then that is what matters. And I loved the George MacDonald quote, by the way. I liked reading him years ago.

I’ll continue to throw out stuff as I come across it.


robynhood - #76839

February 20th 2013

Caleb, I must say I am very impressed by your insightful and gracious reply.  I have enjoyed the constructive dialogue also.  You are absolutely right - attacking ideas (and especially people) is not helpful at all.  ...so much better to simply question and discuss.

I am glad you like George MacDonald.  I have only recently started reading him, but wish I had earlier.  I can see why C.S. Lewis was so inspired by his writings.

As regarding your statement:

If your search and mine, in spite of the errors, leads us to Christ and His glory and into a deeper relationship with Him, then that is what matters.

I completely agree.


Eddie - #76850

February 21st 2013

I would like to add another point, and that is that, while I do not think that Genesis 1 was meant to be interpreted as strictly historical, and while most Biblical scholars teaching in universities or serious academic seminaries agree with me, it must be conceded that the vast majority of simple Christians, and a majority of educated Christians, did interpret it as mostly historical in the past.  I think this must be granted.  I am not pretending that my view of Genesis has been the traditional view.  And one of the things I dislike about the writings of many theistic evolutionists is their tendency to write revisionist history—to speak as if the orthodox and traditional position of the Church has been completely onside with their non-historical interpretations.

We see this in the following passage, from this site:

“When contemporary Christians interpret the early chapters of Genesis literally, they do so out of a desire to take the text seriously. Yet the early church fathers saw these chapters as figurative—and that figurative interpretation did not lesson [sic] the important foundational truths taught in these passages.”

http://biologos.org/blog/denis-alexander-on-the-barriers-to-traditional-creation-theology

To make it clear who I am criticizing, the words here are the words of BioLogos staff, not of Denis Alexander.  The statement “the early church fathers saw these chapters as figurative”—is false as it stands, since in the absence of qualification, it means “All the early church fathers saw all the statements in these chapters as figurative.”  But in fact, most of the church fathers saw most of the statements in these chapters as historical.  So the sentence misrepresents the historical record.  And TEs do this quite often, so eager are they to convince others (and themselves) that their reformulation of Christian theology is in accord with the tradition.

It is true, of course, that individual Church fathers, on individual points, questioned the historical nature of Genesis statements.  Augustine thought that creation was instantaneous, not spread out over six literal days.  Other Fathers displayed other non-historical readings of other verses in Genesis 1-11.  But overall, they were Genesis literalists (though much more educated and less anti-cultural than most modern literalists).  Only Origen was significantly non-historical in his readings of a large number of Biblical passages, and even he was literalist on many points where a modern TE would not be.  And he was unusual as Church Fathers go.

Now it is quite possible to argue that the Church Fathers misunderstood the literary character of Genesis 1-11.  I would argue that this was often the case.  But it is simply wrong, from both a scholarly and a Christian point of view, to misrepresent what they said.  They should not be invoked in a way that could easily lead most readers to infer that they would have agreed with Enns, Sparks, etc.  I think it is fair for TEs to criticize parts of the tradition, and to offer text-based arguments for a different interpretation of Genesis; I do not think it is fair or even honest to blur the differences between how TEs read Genesis and how the Fathers read it. 

I mention this here in part because it is relevant to our current topic, and in part because, despite the fact that I informed the webmaster several days ago that the comments on Dr. Alexander’s column are not enabled, they still have not been enabled, so I cannot make the correction there.


Jon Garvey - #76852

February 21st 2013

Yup, that’s true Eddie. The most one can say is that, because “literal” to the Fathers had only loose reference to “scientific”, they were sometimes more open to putting various allegorical and other spiritual interpretations on the accounts, usually though in addition to the simple affirmation that they were true.

Augustine, particularly, appears to veer from ancient science to metaphor depending which passage you read: in fact he thought the same passage contained all his meanings, and he would show the same range of non-literal interpretations over passages that were clearly straight history. So there’s no sense that the literal sense is problematic (except for God taking as long as a week to do what should happen instantly!)

What I would say is that the mediaeval worldview that developed from their writings was much closer to what seems to have been the original mindset about Genesis than our modern materialistic one - whether TE or Creationist. To both the key factor was the spiritual order, not the physical construction, which simply reflected it. The sky was up because heaven is a higher realm.


bren - #76853

February 21st 2013

Hi Eddie,

I agree with your point here (although I glanced over the rest of the string with only one eye!), it is careless at best to represent the church fathers as having a monolithic solution to hermeneutical issues relating to creation (or almost anything else for that matter), especially one that actually reads as a minority opinion.  While the figurative view was almost guaranteed to find some takers in the Alexandrian school or wherever it held sway, the general Antiochene suspicion of effusively open-ended readings seems to have held its ground (and no surprise if it generally won out in the West).  I think that the most helpful and concise statement on this subject with respect to the fathers is that (a) they didn’t always agree on how Genesis was to be understood and (b) the  diversity on this topic was hardly central to considerations of orthodoxy or heterodoxy, with the subject usually taking a backseat to more pressing theological concerns.  The early creeds essentially took no position and showed no interest in the subject, focusing on trumpeting that God is the author of creation; air, land and sea, and giving no further details to worry about.  If most modern commentators (non-YEC anyway) would confine themselves to these observations on the fathers, then they would find their positions to be well served, since it would at least provide a historical warrant for a greater variety of positions, while providing no warrant for condemning alternate perspectives (within reason of course!).

The modern controversy centers around the idea of loss of biblical authority when it comes to accepting a non-literal creation story, but I’m not sure that the Church fathers would have generally agreed with that take, especially given the diverse and well established interpretative strategies that were commonly used at the time.  Heresy is made of sterner stuff and they knew it.  Maybe we should follow suit!


Eddie - #76856

February 21st 2013

Jon Garvey and bren:

Your comments above seem to me to be correct and useful.  I don’t think I have anything to add to them.


lancelot10 - #76974

February 28th 2013

I am amazed that any scientist could say that fossils are rare - there are billions dug up and still in the sediments.   There are no transitional links just the sudden appearance of creatures as Darwin rightly stated.  The fossil record shows billions of creatures suddenly killed in a global flood and covered in sediment as they would be.  

The fossil layers normally have the sea creatures first as you would expect the water borne sediments to cover them first.   The collection of ape bones and skulls are just that - monkeys and apes with the odd human skull.

There are no ways of determining ancestry other than looking for some form of likeness which is not science.  A poodle looks different from a dachhound but they are dog species.

If a hippo evolved into a whale there should be millions of transitionals since they had to survive long enough in their own right for the next miraculous cosmic ray to play snooker with the genes in their gonads.

Can anyone honestly believe that the sonar in whales and dolphins made itself over a period of trial and error .

“I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book (Evolution). If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would have certainly have included them… Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils… I will lay it on the line –there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.” ~ Dr. Collin Patterson - Museum of natural history.


bren - #76997

March 1st 2013

Quote-mining, blanket denials, arguments from incredulity, bizarre and unsupported claims about “what we would expect to see”, a complete lack of familiarity about what we actually do see  …would you be willing to offer any independent ideas or research that didn’t step off of the icr/AiG assembly line fully-formed?  It’s like a copy/paste-athon as is…


lancelot10 - #77017

March 1st 2013

Bren  - your post would apply to what you have just written - nothing wrong with a quote - the site is full of quotes from evolutionists - a quote is merely summarising a viewpoint  - quotes are used in scientific papers - no need to use childish name calling tactics.  The 1st five paragraphs are my own thoughts - However as we know - nobody can claim unique thoughts.    It is the evolutionists who manufacture their research.

Could you give me just one clear example of evolution backed up by evidence - your own thoughts please (no talk origins allowed) .  Since there should be billions of examples of evolution this will be no problem to you.


lancelot10 - #77018

March 1st 2013

A mini example of what we would expect to see is the hardened rock sediments and fossils in the mt st helens area - although Noah’s flood had much more water .

The sedimentary rocks at Mt st helens look ancient but are only 30 yrs old - the tree fossils - 30 yrs old would look ancient to an evolutionary mindset.

The lava from mt st helens was dated at around a million years.


lancelot10 - #76975

February 28th 2013

Supposed similarities do not prove evolution but a common designer who created DNA an incredible code and tweaked it to create all creatures and plants.  How could DNA arise in a muddy pool - it defies reason.

“Similarity does not equal relationship. Evolutionists often use similarity between animals and man to ‘prove’ Darwinism…. Creationists likewise use similarities to support creation…. So God used His blueprint for many of His creatures. Similarities don’t mean common ancestry but a common architect.” ~ Don Boys 


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