Science in Christian Perspective
Theological Analysis of Selected Recent Creationist Assertions Concerning the Occurrence of Death before Sin
Department of Natural Sciences
Grantham, PA 17027
From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 52 (September 2000):160-168.
Old-earth creation models such as theistic evolution and progressive creation accept the occurrence of death before sin. Theological arguments centered on God's character-- his omniscience, omnipotence, and loving nature--are developed by recent creationists to argue against the occurrence of death before sin. Likewise, the atoning work of Christ is understood by recent creationists to be incompatible with death before sin. Analysis of these assertions reveals that theological argumentation cannot preclude an old earth creation in which death of animals and humans occurred before sin. Conversely, it can be argued theologically that such a world is to be expected.
In one sense, all models of origins reduce to two: (1) those that posit a recent creation in the order of 10,000 years or less, and (2) those that involve an old earth. Recent creationists claim that physical death and suffering is the result of human sin. Therefore, evolution could not have occurred, and the earth must be very young. They offer significant theological arguments that, if accepted, would deny death and suffering prior to human sin. In contrast, progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists, while disagreeing on the extent and efficacy of evolution in accomplishing God's objectives, do agree that the earth is very old and that there was death as evidenced by fossils during the entire history of life on earth--before humans and thus before sin. Among evangelical Christians, the debate seems unending. However, if no theological defense can be made for the occurrence of death, injury, disease, and suffering before human sin, then no old-earth position is tenable.
Old-earth creationists face a difficult challenge. It is often not enough to simply say that the weight of scientific evidence is on their side. As Johnson notes:
Most evangelicals have steered clear of interpreting the Genesis narratives other than as straightforward historical accounts. Underlying this hesitation is a deep-seated fear that once we have departed from tradition in this way, we will find ourselves on a "slippery slope" that will lead ultimately to the denial of key doctrines such as the resurrection and the collapse of biblical Christianity.1
Three recent creationist assertions concerning death, suffering, and disease will be critiqued in this paper with the goal of arguing that old-earth models such as progressive creation or theistic evolution are not only scientifically and theologically supportable, but indeed preferable to recent creation models. A further goal of this paper is to encourage Christians not to fear science and scientific theories. In fact, Christian students should be called to careers as geologists, paleontologists, astronomers, and evolutionary biologists.
Assertion #1: Death would not be part of a good creation created by a good, omnipotent, and omniscient God.
Recent creationist Stambaugh says:
The Bible states that God created everything in an idyllic fashion ("very good," according to Gen. 1:31). The earth, animals, and man cooperated in harmony and peaceful coexistence. God gave man the freedom of choice--to choose to obey or disobey him. However, if we view the timing of Rom. 8:19-21 as dating from Gen. 1:1, we can offer no credible defense for a belief in a God who is good, loving, just, and merciful, for this "groaning" world was His plan.2
Ham adds the idea that "death, bloodshed, and suffering of living creatures were not possible before the Fall. It was a perfect world, sustained totally by the infinite Creator."3 Regarding old-earth progressive creationism, Morris declares: "We literal creationists do see problems in this idea, however. The concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, loving, caring God devising such a scheme somehow seems to stick in our mental throats whenever they ask us to swallow it."4
We have to be extremely careful here not to put undue weight on our own constructions of what good means. [Recent] creationists understand good as automatically implying lack of animal death, animal suffering or animal predation and as implying efficiency, economy and so forth. But it was God who saw the creation as good, and just as his thoughts are not ours and his ways are not ours, his judgements of good might be a bit beyond ours as well.5
The created order truly is capable of fulfilling God's purpose for it as the place where relationship between God and human beings takes place. This points us toward the specific way in which creation is "very good": because it is the sphere in which real relationship is possible with the Creator, because its real otherness is upheld, indeed cherished, by God. Philosophers have argued for centuries over whether this is the best possible world, and the only suitable answer is, "That all depends." If you think the best possible world would be one without pain, without threat or hurt or risk, where "a good time is had by all," then this is not it. If you consider the possibility that the best possible world would be one that best suits God's purposes of establishing real, covenantal relationship with humans, complete with freedom and the risks that entails, with the realities of struggle and pain and the growth those enable, then perhaps this world comes awfully close.6
While recognizing the importance of relationship and free will, Christians shrink away from accepting as good those elements of creation that cause pain and suffering. In fact, theologians have labeled these undesirable aspects of creation as natural evils and attempt to understand their presence (as well as the presence of moral evil) by developing theodicies. A theodicy is the "theoretical justification of the goodness of God in the face of the presence of evil in the world."7 With regard to the natural world, Reichenbach explains:
It is he who guided its evolution, so that in the created he might realize the purposes for which he created. But if God made and continues to work with the world, how is it possible to reconcile his perfect goodness with the apparently unwarranted and wanton suffering due to natural (i.e., nonhuman-purposed) causes which plagues human (and animal) existence? How can a God characterized by omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect goodness be directly or indirectly the cause of ...?8
Here the reader can insert as nasty a list of diseases, disasters, birth defects, or predators as desired. Reichenbach explores several types of theodicies that attempt to find a solution to the problem of natural evil. He favors a theodicy based on natural laws and free will.
An important presupposition for a theodicy based on natural laws is that "a world containing significantly free persons making choices between moral good and evil and choosing a significant amount of moral good is superior to a world lacking significantly free persons and moral good and evil."9 This is essentially the Free Will Defense of Plantinga.10 Reichenbach's approach is to extend the free will defense, traditionally applied to moral evil, to natural evils. Swinburne agrees, explaining that "if the free-will defense works in explaining why God might permit the existence of moral evil, then it also provides an explanation of why God might bring about the existence of much natural evil."11 Polkinghorne completes the parallel by naming this approach a "free-process defense."12
Reichenbach's argument is:
The natural evils which human persons (and animals) experience (by and large) are not willed by God, but are the consequences of the outworking upon sentient creatures of the natural laws according to which God's creation operates. This creation, in order to make possible the existence of moral agents (in this case, human persons), had to be ordered according to some set of natural laws. Consequently, the possibility arises that sentient creatures like ourselves can be negatively affected by the outworkings of these laws in nature, such that we experience pain, suffering, disability, disutility, and at times the frustration of our good desires.13
Reichenbach further argues that the alternative, "a world operated by miracle is incompatible with a world inhabited by significantly free moral beings" and that, assuming the above presupposition is true, "it was impossible for God, in creating, to create a world which was not operated by natural laws."14 He elaborates:
In a world which operates according to divine miraculous intervention, there would be no necessary relation between phenomena, and in particular between cause and effect ... There would be no regularity of sequence, no natural production of effects.
But without the regularity which results from the governance of natural laws, rational action would be impossible. Without regularity of sequence, agents could not entertain rational expectations, make predictions, estimate probabilities, or calculate prudence. They would not be able to know what to expect about any course of action they would like to take ... Hence, agents could not know or even suppose what course of action to take to accomplish a certain rationally conceived goal ...
But proposing action and acting on that proposal are essential for an agent's determination as a moral being. "Good" is predicated of moral agents when proper intentions come to fruition in right conduct; "bad" when improper intentions result in wrong conduct. But since they would be unable to rationally conceive what actions to take in order to achieve certain goals, and since they could not perform the actions, a world operated by miracle would prevent moral agents from formulating or carrying out their moral intentions. In effect, it would become impossible for agents to be moral beings.15
Lewis illustrates the problem of a world operated by miracle. He invites us to:
Conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.16
Polkinghorne considers it likely that only "a universe in which we could entertain a free-process defense, would be one in which there could be people to whom the free-will defense could be applied."17
can be considered good, then,
in that it accomplishes his will--allowing rational,
morally free agents to come into existence and make free choices
to love and obey God and be in relationship with him.
Those who object to the above theodicy for natural evils often suggest that God could warn people of impending physical perils and thereby keep them from harm. But a world filled with divine warnings of physical danger and miraculous protection from physical hazards might as well be a world where God verbally warns people of every foreknown danger. Swinburne argues against this sort of world because this sort of world would allow humans to know for certain that there is a God.18 This kind of world would not be:
A world in which men had a significant choice of destiny, of what to make of themselves and the world. God would be too close for them to be able to work things out for themselves. But the whole point of the free-will defense is that a good God might give to man a choice of destiny; if he gave to men verbal knowledge of the consequences of their actions, he would not be able to give that choice. Proximity to God is no doubt a good thing; but a God has reason to ensure that we only get to that state as a result of our choice (e.g., in another world as a result of our conduct in this one).19
Swinburne concludes: "There must be natural evils if men are to have a significant choice of destiny; which is why a good God might well bring them about."20
God's creation can be considered good, then, in that it accomplishes his will--allowing rational, morally free agents to come into existence and make free choices to love and obey God and be in relationship with him. Regularity of natural laws is essential to developing rational thought. In fact, it is essential to life on earth. For example, organisms require the predictability of gravity to learn to walk, run, swim, and fly effectively. But the same laws of gravity that permit learning to walk and run without falling also result in injury or death if one falls from a significant height or is struck by a falling tree limb. Similarly, water is essential for life but it can also kill us. Fire warms us and cooks our food but it can also burn and destroy. Note that regularity of natural law does not preclude miracles. Indeed, there must be an overall regularity for a miracle to be recognized. The inexorable regularity of natural laws allows cause and effect relationships to be learned and rational action to exist. Rationality, in turn, is prerequisite to being a moral agent.
How do we explain the "groaning" world of Rom. 8:19-22? Recent creationists claim that the groaning creation described in Romans 8 describes the physical changes (thorns, pain, death) that came about in creation as a result of Adam's sin.21 As Ross explains, though, the Romans 8 passage, while telling us when the bondage to decay will end, does not tell us when it began or what the nature of the bondage is.22 Ross understands the "groaning" and "decay" to be the environmental degradation that results from the disruption of our relationship to God and to creation. Significantly, the Bible does link physical degradation of the land to moral decay (Isa. 24:5, Hosea 4:1, 3). Blocher says:
If man obeyed God, he would be the means of blessing to the earth; but in his insatiable greed, in his scorn for the balances built into the created order and in his shortsighted selfishness he pollutes and destroys it. He turns a garden into a desert (cf. Rev. 11:18). That is the main thrust of the curse of Genesis 3.23
Pollution, greed, and ecological destruction are not new to modern humankind. Archeological evidence indicates that ancient civilizations were more than capable of destroying the ecological base on which they depended.24
In summary, the Free-will Defense as applied to natural evils states that a world with moral agents is superior to a world without them and that it would be impossible to create such a world without the regularity of natural laws. There is, then, a morally sufficient reason for natural evil, and the presence of evil in creation is not necessarily at odds with a very good creation created by a good, omniscient, and omnipotent God.
Assertion #2: Death before sin negates the atoning work of Christ.
Ham tells us:
Death and bloodshed before Adam sinned makes nonsense of the whole basis of the atonement. It would mean that death was not the penalty for sin, (since it existed for millions of years before sin), and therefore death could not be used to atone for sin. This would destroy the reason why Christ died and the meaning of the resurrection.25
Speaking of the use of animals in the Old Testament sacrifice of atonement, Stambaugh adds:
If there was animal death before the fall of man, then God and all those who followed His pattern did useless acts. One must observe that in the atonement the animal loses its life in the place of the human. If animal death existed before the fall, then the object lesson represented by the atoning sacrifice is in reality a cruel joke ...
If we believe that death has always existed, then we make a mockery of the death of Christ ... If death is not the penalty for sin, then Christianity is meaningless. The death of Christ was made necessary because of man's sin. Man's sin brought death, which in turn brought God's Son to pay the penalty in our place.26
Finally, in response to suggestions by old-earth creationists that sin led only to spiritual death, Morris asks: "Why would Christ have to die physically ... in order to atone for man's "spiritual" death?"27
There are difficulties at several levels with this understanding of the relationship between sin, death, and the atonement. First, although human death is linked with human sin (Rom. 5:12-13 and 1 Corin. 15:21-22), it moves beyond the clear teaching of the Bible to claim that nonhuman death is also the result of human sin. The context of the passages above is exclusively human. Animals are considered amoral creatures, incapable of sinning, and therefore not under any penalty of death and not in need of a restoration of relationship with God. Animal death occurring for whatever length of time before the entry of sin cannot, therefore, be the result of sin. It is an unwarranted extrapolation to extend the consequences of human sin to the broader animal world. Animal death before human sin does not diminish or make a joke of or mockery of the religious significance of the Old Testament sacrificial system or the atoning sacrificial death of Christ. There was no need of atonement before there was sin.
Secondly, just because sin required atonement which was associated with the death of animals and Jesus' death, this does not mean that all death in all times and all places is associated with sin. Ross states it this way:
While it is true that there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, Christ's blood, it does not necessarily follow that all shed blood is for the remission of sin. (To say there could have been no bloodshed before sin is to make the same exegetical error as made by those who claim there were no rainstorms or rainbows before the Genesis flood.)28
Thirdly, does the fact that Christ died physically prove that the first experience of physical death by people came about as the result of sin? Did Christ have to die physically for atonement to occur? Did animals have to be sacrificed in Old Testament times to provide atonement? In discussing the necessity of the atonement, Grider dismisses the assertion that the atonement provided was the only kind open to God. While stating that some kind of atonement was necessary "if the holy God was to forgive and cleanse us sinful human beings," Grider points out that "God was surely free to choose the method of atonement: a different kind of death, or even a method other than death. God is God. We are the creatures, and the creatures do not tell God that he is required to act in certain ways."29
Lastly, atonement can be defined as the "bringing of people back into relationship with God."30 It is the doctrine that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection saves us from sin and reconciles us to God. It is the restoration of relationship broken by sin. Theories or models of atonement attempt to explain how Christ's work on the cross accomplishes this restoration.
It is noteworthy that there has never been a single "official" doctrine of the Atonement approved by church council or creed; rather, what we find are many different attempts to view the cross of Jesus from differing angles and from within different historical and social contexts.31
Various models include Christus Victor, Ransom Theory, Satisfaction Theory, Penal (Punishment) Theory, Moral Influence Theory, and the Governmental Theory.32 Recent creationist language describing the atonement suggests adherence to the penal theory of atonement of the Calvinist-Reformed tradition. Penal theory "starts from the ideas of the inviolability of law and the justice of God. God is perfectly just, and the divine law of punishment can never be set aside. Sin was seen as a breaking of law, and all such violations must be punished so that the law can be satisfied. God's justice is such that sin cannot go unpunished."33 "God's justice will not allow Him to forgive without sin being fully punished."34 Finally, "because of the cross, believers have nothing to fear. The requirements of the law have been met. From this point of view the cross represents Christ's receiving of that penalty of sin that was our due."35
Recent creationists' insistence
on understanding all death
as a penalty for sin leads them to promote one interpretation
of Christ's atonement to the exclusion of the other views held
by the wider Christian Church.
Other theories of the atonement, however, do not link Christ's death to the paying of a penalty or being punished. Arminian-Wesleyan tradition, for example, holds the Penal theory to be inadequate and unbiblical.36 Grider declares that "Scripture never states that He was punished for us or that He paid the penalty for us. Scripture always states instead that He suffered for us."37 Taylor adds: "The perfect unity of purpose which existed between Jesus and His father excludes all theories of vindictive punishment."38 Differences in understanding extend to the meaning of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament as well. Arminian-Wesleyan theologians speak of the person offering the sacrifice as identifying with the sacrifice as his representative before God;39 whereas the Calvinist-Reformed tradition speaks of the animal, in dying, "taking the punishment due the worshiper for his sins."40 Recent creationists' insistence on understanding all death as a penalty for sin leads them to promote one interpretation of Christ's atonement to the exclusion of the other views held by the wider Christian Church.
Assertion #3:Long ages filled with death and suffering is not a process that an efficient, wise, caring, and loving God would use.
One of the hardest things to understand is how anyone who claims to believe in a God of love can also believe in the geological ages, with their supposed record of billions of years of suffering and death before sin came into the world. This seems clearly to make God a God of waste and cruelty rather than a God of wisdom and power and love.41
Similarly, "Evolution is the most wasteful and most cruel process that one could ever devise by which to 'create' men and women."42 And Morris asks: "Had God been experimenting, trying to find something He could call His image? Did He not know what He wanted? Was He not powerful enough to create it without so many missteps? If the creation and redemption of man was His purpose, why did He wait so long?"43
Here, too, we must be careful not to apply human parameters to God. We are time-bound creatures and, at least in this culture, quite concerned about wasting time and maximizing efficiency. Ratzsch responds:
Nor is it obvious that wastefulness would be a concern to God. Nature produces a lavish profusion of everything from beetles to grass blades to rocks to stars. Indeed, what would wasteful even mean in the context of omnipotent ability to create anything and everything from nothing with a word? And the creation does not seem to be defined by ruthless efficiency. Why would efficiency be a concern to the eternal God? He is not going to run out of time, energy, or resources.44
If efficiency is an important part of God's character, why did he not just bring the entire creation into existence in the blink of an eye? Why take six days? Why not six seconds? Why create the ostrich described in Job 39:13-18 that wastes its eggs by allowing them to be trampled and that treats its young as if they were not hers? Why lavish so much beauty on a flower that lasts but a day (Luke 12:27-28)? Why create a Leviathan that is of no use to people (Ps. 104:26)? Ratzsch observes:
Maybe God enjoys watching his creation operate. Maybe he delights in seeing processes he has designed unfold. Maybe a few billion years watching an incredibly intricate, complex, beautiful creation in exquisite operation does not strike him as a waste of time. And maybe we should be a bit cautious about humanly decreeing that it would be.45
Recent creationists claim that old-earth models portray God as wasteful and cruel and allowing too much suffering. But if quickness in time is important to avoid these charges, the same accusations can be applied to post-sin history. Ross observes:
God could do much right now to reduce our suffering. But a loving, merciful God allows the epitome of His creation--humankind--to suffer discomfort, illness, injury, and death. God even calls the death of His saints precious (Ps. 116:15). Could it be that God's purposes are somehow fulfilled through our experiencing the "random, wasteful, inefficiencies" of the natural realm He created.46
We must be careful not to apply human parameters to God ...
Can human beings always know what a caring and loving God will do? ...
God expects his people to trust his goodness and care, even in the face
of death and misery.
Can human beings always know what a caring and loving God will do? In the book of Job, we learn that Job's seven children and many of his servants and animals are killed. Although God prospers him in the end, his seven dead children are not brought back to life and God never, to our knowledge, explains to Job the heavenly understanding with Satan that led to Job's ills. Is this what we would "expect" a loving God to do? Then, as now, God expects his people to trust his goodness and care, even in the face of death and misery. Similarly, the physical destruction of the various ethnic groups inhabiting Canaan may be explained as part of God's overall plan of redemption. But these violent and bloody conquests are not necessarily what we would "expect" a caring, loving God to do. A note of caution should accompany any claim to know how God views death as it occurred, not only over the vast geologic ages but also in recorded history.
A Further Note Concerning Human Death
The likelihood of human death and suffering before sin is a hard concept to accept. It is an old debate. Hollinger notes:
Some have argued that the entrance of sin changed the nature of death and certainly brought spiritual death, but that even without the fall there would have been the natural biological process of the life cycle, which moves from the inception of life, through various stages, to its conclusion ... Other theologians, however, have contended that physical death per se, not just its sinister components, is the result of sin.47
It is worth noting that theologians have wrestled with the question of death long before the advent of evolutionary theory. For example, in answering the question, "Why was man, created immortal, given food to eat in Paradise?"Augustine states:
It is difficult to explain how man was created immortal and at the same time in company with the other living creatures was given for food the seed-bearing plant, the fruit tree, and the green crops. If it was by sin that he was made mortal, surely before sinning he did not need such food, since his body could not corrupt for lack of it ... no one will go so far as to say that there can be a need of food for nourishment except in the case of mortal bodies.48
"One of our most appealing and persistent myths is that of the Golden Age, a time before the discovery of good and evil, when death and disease were unknown."49 Sigerist, reviewing human paleopathological evidence concludes that "not only did man at all times for tens of thousands of years suffer from many kinds of ailments, but animals, millions of years before the advent of man, were also plagued with disease."50 All available evidence indicates that humans have always experienced the kind of world we see around us now, a world which includes death, sickness, parasites, predation, storms, earthquakes, and the possibility of accidents. Bear in mind the human body is made of the same material as other mortal animals. We are subject to the same kinds of injuries and deaths that animals have suffered for millions of years. Would God protect all humans from being severely cut and bleeding to death, or falling from a height and being killed or paralyzed, or drowning, or choking to death, or being crushed by a falling tree or rock? To claim that human beings, before sinning (but with our present physical constitution), would not suffer injury and mortality is to make the problematic claim that human life would be constantly maintained by miracle.
We need to bring to this argument, too, the conclusions of many biblical scholars that the Bible, particularly the primeval history recorded in Genesis 1-11, is not to be understood as teaching science or history as we understand it. Theological truth is often not connected to the time-specific context, content, and understanding of the passage containing it. As Galileo liked to say, the Bible teaches us "how one goes to Heaven, not how the heavens go."51 The scientific study of God's creation allows us to glimpse the "how" of God's creating. The validity of this complementary approach to science and the Bible has been vindicated time and again. The strength of extra biblical evidence has convinced many Christians to reassess the meaning of many aspects of the Genesis stories. To most Christians, it is no longer an issue that the earth is not the center of the universe or that the earth is very old. It is my contention that this reexamination of the Genesis 1-11 narratives should encompass the biological world as well as the celestial and geological. Given the strong evidence for an old earth, the paleontological evidence for the occurrence of death and disease throughout the history of life, and given the implications of Polkinghorne's "free-process defense," can Christians also come to accept that living things (including humans) have always been mortal and there never was an idyllic Garden of Eden?
It is my contention
that this reexamination
of the Genesis 1-11 narratives should encompass
the biological world as well as the celestial and geological.
The question of human suffering and death before sin is, of course, associated with unique theological concerns because, unlike the animals, we are moral agents, the only creatures of God created in his image and accountable to him. How, then, are we to understand passages such as Gen. 2:17, Rom. 5:12 and 1 Corin. 15:21 which link death with sin? Hollinger notes: "Whatever our perspective on the theological debate, we must acknowledge that the Scriptures are clear in their linkage of sin and death."52 But is sin linked to the death of animals or humans or both? The context of these passages is clearly human death. These verses give no support to the idea that animal death is the consequence of human sin. Further, many Christians understand these passages to be referring to spiritual death, not physical death.53 God tells Adam that "in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:17, NKJV). Adam dies spiritually that day but not physically. Colossians 3:3 and 1 John 3:14 speak of the death of people who are physically alive. These passages are surely speaking of spiritual death. The words used for "death" and "die" in the latter two passages are also used in 1 Corin. 15:21, 22 to refer to the death that comes as a result of sin. Furthermore, when verses such as Rom. 5:17, 18 and 1 Corin. 15:22 speak of "life" or being "made alive," the meaning is clearly spiritual life because all recipients of this "life" are physically alive but will one day experience physical death. The Bible teaches that sin causes spiritual death. It also teaches that faith in God brings eternal life. The pathway leading from spiritual death to eternal life passes through the experience of physical death. There is good reason to believe it has always been that way.
An old-earth position accepting of death and suffering before human sin is theologically compatible with accepted approaches to biblical interpretation. The integrative model presented in this paper is self-consistent, preserves doctrines, helps clarify what is important, allows us to better understand the kinds of questions to ask of the Bible, accords with the biblical record, and removes the conflict with science. It is incompatible, of course, with the recent creationist approach where, too often, it is a particular interpretation which is viewed as infallible rather than the Bible. Their viewpoint should not go unchallenged.
All Christians have a stake in the successes and failures of the Creationists [recent], who cannot be allowed to hold the field as if they express the only Christian position. The primary concern is that they will ultimately fail because they reject not just the theory of evolution, but solid evidence from geology, biology, physics and astronomy as well. They do an injustice to God by rejecting the physical evidence of his universe when it conflicts with their interpretation of the Bible.54
Many Christians will still continue to shy away from anything other than traditional straightforward historical interpretations out of fear that not doing so will open the door to a slippery slope leading to the denial of key doctrines such as the resurrection. But there is no single approach to biblical interpretation. Hummel, when asked if he takes the Bible literally, responds by saying:
One should take the literal parts literally and the figurative parts figuratively, aware that the biblical writers use a variety of literary forms to convey God's truth.55
Adoption of a basically non-literal interpretive approach, coupled with a recognition that it is not the function of Scripture to teach scientific and historical facts as such, need not lead to any significant diminution of the religious instruction received from Genesis 1-11.56
On the other hand, the Bible does present historical belief of certain events as essential to the faith. The empty tomb and the post resurrection appearances established without doubt that Christ had conquered death and "vindicated his claim to be both Israel's Messiah and the divine Lord from Heaven."57 Different types of literature demand different approaches to interpretation.
Some Christians will maintain that we should just accept traditional interpretations regardless of what science says. Should we then still teach a geocentric cosmology with a solid firmament58 holding the stars and a creation date of 4004 BC? To a Christian who holds that "all truth is God's truth," this is simply unacceptable. What obstacles to belief would this "head in the sand" approach present to the world. Rethinking traditional interpretations focuses attention on the relative importance of nonbiblical information in biblical interpretation. Commenting on the relationship between extra biblical information and the Bible, Young commends interpreters who support
"the principle that extra biblical information should serve as a check to constrain the interpreter from indulging in exegeses that can no longer be credibly sustained and as a stimulus to intensified probing of the text in order to elucidate an interpretation that is faithful to the text. Indeed, ... extra biblical evidence provides a marvelous opportunity for achieving an improved understanding of the Word of God."59
Teachers in contact with Christian students should encourage them to pursue training and careers in all fields of science. Rather than perceiving certain scientific disciplines as enemies of the faith, more Christians should be at the forefront of knowledge in paleontology, geology, astronomy, and other fields that have bearing on origins. Why leave the challenge and excitement of discovering truth about the creation to the secular community. As Young says:
What marvelous insights into Scripture might await the church if from now on the theologians and exegetes would work side by side with biologists, archeologists, anthropologists, geologists, linguists, astronomers, sociologists, and paleontologists! In a world of burgeoning knowledge about ancient literature, languages, civilizations, culture, and customs as well as about the workings of God's creation, biblical scholars must engage in dialogue with other representatives of the intellectual world they profess to want to influence with the good news [of the Gospel] ...60
And why should this dialogue not occur with increasing numbers of Christians representing all disciplines? Let's encourage more of our students, not to fear the conclusions of science as an attack on biblical authority, but rather to welcome the insights each discipline gives to our understanding of God's world and God's Word, and to be a participant in revealing and integrating these truths. As Noll notes: "Evangelical thinking about science is still but a shadow of what God, nature, and the Christian faith deserve."61
1M. J. Johnson, Genesis, Geology and Catastrophism (Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1988), 134.
2J. Stambaugh, "Creation and the Curse," Impact 272 (February 1996): i-iv, p. iii. Impact is a pamphlet published by the Institute for Creation Research.
3K. Ham, "Adam and Ants," Back to Genesis (September 1991):a-c, p. c. Back to Genesis is a pamphlet published by the Institute for Creation Research.
4H. Morris, "The Wolf and the Lamb," Back to Genesis (September 1994):a-c, pp. b-c.
5D. Ratzsch, The Battle of Beginnings (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 189.
6M. Lodahl, The Story of God (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1994), 66.
7A. E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), 502.
8B. R. Reichenbach, Evil and a Good God (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982), 87.
10A. Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense," in M. L. Peterson, ed., The Problem of Evil (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 118.
11R. Swinburne, "Natural Evil," in M. L. Peterson, ed., The Problem of Evil (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 304.
12J. Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 85.
13Reichenbach, Evil and a Good God, 101.
16C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962), 33.
17Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist, 85.
18Swinburne, The Problem of Evil, 314-315.
21J. Stambaugh, "Creation and the Curse," Impact 272 (February 1996): i-iv; and K. Ham, "Adam and Ants," Back to Genesis (September 1991): a-c.
22H. Ross, Creation and Time (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994), 66.
23H. Blocher, In the Beginning (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 184.
24J. Diamond, "The Golden Age That Never Was," Discover (December 1988): 70-79; and J. Perlin, A Forest Journey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).
25K. Ham, "Adam and Ants," Back to Genesis (September 1991): a-c.
26J. Stambaugh, "Death Before Sin?" Impact 191 (May 1989): i-iv, p. iv.
27H. Morris, "The Tree of Life," Back to Genesis (October 1998): a-c.
28Ross, Creation and Time, 64.
29J. K. Grider, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1994), 323.
30R. Keeley, ed., Eerdmans' Handbook to Christian Belief (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 463.
31Lodahl, The Story of God, 158-9.
32H. R. Dunning, Grace, Faith, and Holiness (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1988); Grider, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology; and A. F. Johnson, & R. E. Webber, What Christians Believe: A Biblical and Historical Summary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993).
33Dunning, Grace, Faith, and Holiness, 336-7.
34Grider, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, 328.
35L. Morris, The Atonement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 201.
36Dunning, Grace, Faith, and Holiness, 362-5.
37Grider, A Wesleyan-Holiness Theology, 329.
38V. Taylor, Jesus and His Sacrifice (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1959), 276.
39H. R. Dunning, Grace, Faith, and Holiness, (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1988), 375; and Taylor, Jesus and His Sacrifice, 50.
40Morris, The Atonement, 47.
41H. Morris, "The Fall, The Curse, and Evolution," Back to Genesis (April 1998): a-c, p. a.
42H. Morris, "Old-earth Creationism," Back to Genesis (April 1997): a-c, p. b.
43J. D. Morris, "Is the God of Theistic Evolution the Same as the God of the Bible?" Back to Genesis (March 1998): d.
44Ratzsch, The Battle of Beginnings, 189-90.
46Ross, Creation and Time, 88.
47D. P. Hollinger, "A Theology of Death," in T. J. Demy & G. P. Stewart, eds., Suicide: A Christian Response (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 259.
48Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, vol. I. (New York: Newman Press, 1982), 97-8.
49L. N. Magner, A History of Medicine (New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1992), 1.
50H. E. Sigerist, A History of Medicine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951), 65.
51C. E. Hummel, The Galileo Connection. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 106.
52Hollinger, Suicide: A Christian Response, 259.
53Ross, Creation and Time, 61-2.
54I. L. Zabilka, Scientific Malpractice: The Creation/Evolution Debate. (Lexington, KY: Bristol Books, 1992), 142.
55Hummel, The Galileo Connection, 171.
56Johnson, Genesis, Geology and Catastrophism, 134.
58C. Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984), 76.
59D. A. Young, The Biblical Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 305.
61M. A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 233.