PCRT Seminar: Major Approaches to Creation, Part 1 (Derek Thomas)

(Posted by Paige)

[I owe this to Lane in return for a delicious Italian meal, good company, and the privilege of hearing him sing “And Can It Be” – just amazing. Sorry this one wasn’t live; I still don’t know how he does that, even after watching!]

I chose Derek Thomas’s seminar because I’d just finished reading his Job commentary with my 14-year-old, and I only belatedly realized I’d assigned myself to write up what Thomas dubbed a particularly “complex, difficult, divisive issue.” (That is a short “i” in the middle there; he’s Welsh.) So, here goes. Please don’t shoot the messenger. Please do read everything with a Welsh accent.

There was a lot of content in this presentation, so this will take two parts.

To begin with his endpoint: as the PCA study committee also affirmed, there are several views of creation that can be held without threat to inerrancy. While Thomas would personally subscribe to about 1.5 of the views he presented (on which see part two), he acknowledged that several other views were the convictions of scholars he respects. That said, there are lines in the sand past which inerrancy is no longer viable. The three non-negotiables he mentioned were creation ex nihilo, the special creation of man, and the historical, biblical individual named Adam. (I suspect there may have been more examples in his mind, but he didn’t get to them before Q&A time.)

Before describing any particular views of creation, Thomas dwelt on the tension that exists between biblical and scientific worldviews regarding the nature of the universe. He noted that evolution was not really a scientific theory, but rather “a philosophy, a worldview, an epistemology that affects ethics, morals, and standards.” Even the Big Bang theory moves beyond science and into theology when it tries to address origins (i.e., what happened before this singularity?). “Theologians should get antsy when scientists do theology – generally they do it pretty badly.”

Still, as the church we don’t want to commit another embarrassing error along the lines of geocentrism; it may be healthy to be skeptical of science, but “not to the extent we look foolish.” Thomas acknowledges that we trust science for many things (e.g., “If they’re going to cut me open and remove bits of me, I am going to have to trust the science”). Yet there is no way to reconcile even a generous 7-Day-Creation age of the universe (50,000 years ago? 200,000?) with scientific claims – 13.77 billion years – without doing something radical to the biblical account. And this we may not do.

In any case, “we need a degree of modesty when talking about these issues.” Science may be wrong; it is changing, not a constant. And theology may be wrong – the Bible is inerrant, but its interpreters are not.

Thomas also cautioned us to remember that there is a distinction between the Neo-Darwinian viewpoint (represented by Richard Dawkins) and the worldview of Darwin himself. Darwin’s deism was “ungodly, he had no gospel”; and yet he posited that God creates a few primal forms and always assumed a fixity of species (i.e., he did not advocate trans-species evolution). “That is 13.77 billion years away from Neo-Darwinism,” which has no fixed point of origin and traces “an unbroken line from mollusk to man.” This view is now the most dominant philosophy in modern thought…and it introduces the absorbing question, What might man ultimately become??

Speaking of evolution, we must remember that any so-called Christian view of creation that calls into question the historical, biblical Adam has dropped away from inerrancy. Thomas stresses the adjective biblical here because there are those who suggest that “there was a [historical] dude called Adam that God singled out from other hominids” to endow with the divine image. He referenced Dennis Alexander [dates??] who believed that hominids were around for a couple hundred thousand years (and had acquired language!) before any one of them was singled out by God for homo divinus status. John Stott unfortunately adopted this view. It introduces the conundrum of whether Adam & Eve’s parents were human – or a source of food. (And what happened to all those other hominids? What did they become? Hmmm.)

Closer to home we have Peter Enns asserting that Paul’s endorsement of the historical, biblical Adam can be disregarded because Paul was an ancient man, a product of his times…and we know so much better now about human origins. In Derek Thomas’ wry assessment, “That isn’t just a slippery slope – that’s an Alpine slope!”

Stay tuned for part two…