Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor




From: JASA 16 (September 1964): 94-95.

1. I certainly agree with Dr. Klotz on the importance of letting the whole of Scripture (and indeed, the whole of our knowledge) throw light on particular parts of Scripture. As a theist, I regard evolutionary processes as God's way of creating what exists today; I worship God as my Creator, believing that He has brought all of me into existence and not merely the tiny part of my DNA linking me to a single act of "special" creation long ago. I do not think my view is radically discordant with the New Testament view of the Creator and Sustainer of the world, of life, and of man in particular, in spite of the fact that the scientific outlook which influences my view was not in existence in New Testament times.

In Matt. 19:3ff or Mark 10:2ff, Jesus refers to the Gen esis creation account to insist that human sex has a divine purpose, since "He who made them from the beginning made them male and female." Personally, I do not see that the impact of our Lord's statement depends on a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis 1, but I imagine his hearers did so interpret it, having no compelling reason to interpret it otherwise. Similarly, in the passages in Romans, I Corinthians, and I Timothy referring to Adam, Paul's interpretation of Genesis and that of his readers was very likely a literal one; however, the significance of his relating Christ to Adam does not seem to me to depend on that particular interpretation. Paul brings out the great contrast between the first Adam as earthy, physical man, who invented sin and discovered death as a result and Christ as another kind of man, heavenly, spiritual, who through His righteousness atones for sin and provides life for the descendants of the first Adam. Personally, I think neither this contrast nor the religious. imperative based upon it is weakened if Adam refers to "the kind of creature who first appeared on earth as man, and whose descendant I am" rather than to a specific individual. I worship God as the Creator of Adam as well as of myself; I know that processes have been involved in my own creation and I suspect they were involved in Adam's creation also.

The references in I Cor. 11:12 and I Tim. 2:13 to the creation of Eve make it clear to me that the writer and his immediate readers took Genesis 1-2 literally, so that the details of the creation narrative were important to them. The writer could use details familiar to his readers to make a religious point about how Christian women should behave. It is interesting that in this case a wide range of interpretation exists among evangelicals concerning the religious significance of the passage, some groups insisting that women should always wear "coverings" and others saying that the passages mean only in church or referred merely to some local custom at the time of writing. Is it necessary that we agree on their biological significance? The spiritual message of Matt. 6:26 is not lost on those who have looked at the birds of the air and watched their feeding habits just because they do not picture God literally putting seeds or insects into their beaks.

2. 1 divide what seems primarily parabolic from what seems primarily historical in Genesis at chapter 11 simply because of the wealth of detail beginning with the story of Abraham. That is, the first eleven chapters compress many hundreds of years (to a literalist -many thousands, perhaps, to others); yet fourteen chapters are then devoted to Abraham alone, eleven to Isaac and Jacob, and fourteen primarily to Joseph. I do not generally use the terms "saga," "myth," or "allegory" to describe my concept of the nature of Genesis 1-11: 1 prefer the term "parable."

3. It seems reasonable to me that a parable told to put across a spiritual point might use specific names (as in Luke 16:19ff), especially if the names had some particular significance to the immediate hearers or if the parable did involve historical or traditionally accepted events.

My acceptance of a parabolic interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is a tentative and personal solution to problems arising from taking both the Bible and biology seriously. There may be a great variety of Biblical interpretation among theists who accept evolution as a valid and valuable scientific generalization. Dr. Klotz's characterization of theistic evolution at the end of his article does not fit my position particularly well. If God does work through natural laws (such as that of natural selection), then He is not "more or less out of touch with the world in which we live"; on the contrary, He is so thoroughly involved in our world, in the world of Darwin's finches, in the world of amino acids-that the operation of the world becomes wholly contingent on His creative power. My own theological definitions of "natural" and "supernatural" are perhaps not very satisfactory at the present stage of my thinking; however, I think a God who works "exclusively through natural laws" and a God who works exclusively apart from natural laws are not the only alternatives open to us on the basis of Scripture.