When I was asked this question a few years ago, it was refreshing to hear; I don’t normally hear this question asked of Christians–not in private, and certainly not in the public media. At the time I decided to offer just one of the many reasons Genesis is a fundamental and essential part of Christianity. Now, I’d like to offer some of the other reasons, and some thoughts about why this question comes up.
Here are some reasons Genesis provides an essential part of Christianity; after we examine Renaissance Man’s presuppositions, we will examine these later in this post:
- Genesis presents itself as a historical record, not as a myth.
- It reveals God’s work at the creation and the resulting ethical imperatives.
- It records the curses on Adam and Eve, and how they differed.
- It records that patriarchy is a curse.
Genesis is a controversial book, mainly because it presents itself as a history that directly contradicts the prevailing historical narrative adopted wholesale in the Renaissance world. If you adopt it as an accurate record of history–which it clearly purports to be–you will of course get a smirk from Renaissance Man, and possibly a blank look from some church goers. It’s not the popular view. This makes for strong social pressure (logical fallacy: ad populum) to relegate it to the myth category of literature. In some professions like secular academia, you may be denied employment, your doctorate, a promotion or tenure. So much for academic freedom.
More specifically, Genesis is controversial because the first nine chapters claim to record some large scale, catastrophic events on a cosmic scale that don’t fit with the presuppositions about the cosmic past that Renaissance Man holds dear. In the public media he labels these presuppositions as “science” or “scientific” in the hope that they will be swallowed whole, without any scrutiny or critical thought.
These presuppositions are not often brought out in plain view, because some of them are as intellectually flimsy as tissue paper. Some contradict themselves. If Renaissance Man brought these out in public discussion, their flimsy and occasionally contradictory nature might embarrass him. Worse, they would be exposed as the un-scientific, religious dogma they really are. So they are normally kept off stage, in a dark closet of the mind.
As near as I can tell, his hidden fundamental presuppositions seem to be:
- There is no non-physical entity (or deity) operating both inside and outside of time and space, causing things to happen in time and space.
- Chance (aka randomness) is an active force of physics.
- Chance is powerful enough to cause the entire universe (all the particles and energy in it) to instantly come into being.
- All the fundamental physical entities (particles, energy and forces) are self-existent; once they appeared, they don’t need an external driver to keep on existing.
- As forces go, chance is now relatively weak and therefore it takes a long time to cause changes (like speciation and geological features) in the physical universe.
Let’s address each one in sequence.
There is no non-physical entity (or deity) operating inside and outside of time and space, causing things to happen in time and space.
In other (more theologically precise) words, no God may be both transcendent and immanent.
Negative statements like this one are difficult if not impossible to prove. For example, to make certain of the truth of the negative assertion “There are no turquoise-colored M&Ms”, Renaissance Man must locate and visually examine all the M&Ms that currently exist–every last one, no matter where they all are. Not impossible, but certainly a time consuming and probably difficult endeavor.
In the case of this first assertion, Renaissance Man does not have the means to look outside time and space. He can’t construct a robotic probe to go there, much less take a look around. Therefore, he can’t assert anything with confidence or logical honesty about this subject, nor even “There are no M&Ms outside of time and space.”
Now change the M&M to a non-physical entity in the here and now: a spirit being, for which Renaissance Man has no reliable detectors. His probe, searching within time and space, could be “looking” directly at a spirit being and completely miss it.
For this reason, the “no entity or deity” statement is a foolish if not intellectually dishonest thing for anybody to assert (logical fallacy: asserting the conclusion, argumentum ad nauseam). In the words of David and Isaiah, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”
However, this is the hidden presupposition that Renaissance Man holds most dear, and because Genesis baldly asserts the opposite in its opening verse, he categorically labels these first chapters of Genesis as myth. He does this repeatedly (ad nauseam), shouting down any competing claims to the contrary with name-calling, etc. He has to; to do otherwise means he must seriously question this, his primary dogma.
Chance (aka randomness) is an active force of physics.
When we contemplate the common use of the word “chance” we see that it means “human ignorance of governing causes”. To illustrate, when you throw dice, you may know the mathematical “equations of motion” that govern the movement of physical objects, but you have no way of knowing (a) the starting position of the dice you shake in your closed hand, (b) the exact forces your skin exerts on the dice as you toss them, (c) the timing of those forces and (d) the vector direction of those forces. And since you would have to know all of a, b, c and d above in order to predict the end result, we call any throw of dice a “game of chance”. Likewise, if we see two people bump into each other without having planned it ahead of time, we call it a “chance meeting”, meaning we are all ignorant of what causes may have brought about the meeting.
So, this one really should read “Man’s ignorance of causes is an active force of physics.”
I think this one is most amusing because, as Renaissance Man accuses Reformation Man, out of one side his mouth, of invoking deity to explain the as yet unexplained, out of the other side he awards physical powers to something he calls Chance, in order to (you guessed it) explain the as yet unexplained. We might call this intellectual hypocrisy, but a kinder term is cognitive dissonance.
Some, no doubt feeling the intrinsic foolishness of this game, have tried to shift the meaning of the term “Chance” from deity to how scientists label the Unknowable. Personally, I don’t think any real scientist ever says “We can’t understand it, so no use trying to explain it; let’s call it ‘chance’ and move on to something else.” But some non-scientists try this maneuver.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here is a verbatim excerpt that illustrates this phenomenon:
The tools of science have been effective at illuminating each individual step on this long and winding road. But many things exist in nature that science does not even try to explain. Those are labeled “chance.” When a scientist “claims that something occurred by chance”, that is an admission that there is no explanation. I hasten to point out that this does not mean that some a causal factor is missing and has to be provided by God. What it does mean, though, is that events occur in nature that fall outside the explanatory purview of science. These events are either genuinely without explanation or to be explained from a perspective outside of science. This offers no proof of God’s intervention, of course, for it may indeed be that the events are without explanation. But such inexplicable aspects of creation at least erect explanatory boundaries for science and preclude global generalizations about what it all means.
I mentioned above that the story of evolution was underdetermined by virtue of the large portion of the story that is simply missing. In a more profound way, all of nature is underdetermined. The natural order, as disclosed so remarkably by contemporary physics, is not a closed system of interlocking mechanical parts, as the Newtonian worldview mistakenly implied. Rather, events unfold in ways that are not entirely specified by the laws of physics. The most famous statement of this under determination is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, a precise mathematical articulation of exactly how much we can and cannot know about the world. In one of the most general laws in all of science, Heisenberg’s principle sets clear limits on how accurately we can know the behavior of particles, such as electrons. An electron passing through a small hole, for example, will have its path altered by the interaction with the whole. We can know what the trajectory will bend by a certain amount, say ten degrees. But we cannot know in which direction; whether the electron goes left or right, up or down is determined by “chance.”
Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, Harper One, 2008, p. 220.
“Man’s ignorance of causes is not a lack of information, it’s an active force of physics, pushing electrons around, and scientists are not interested in any explanations.”
Right. But let this bizarre dogma stand; we have yet to examine it’s amazing expansion.
Chance is powerful enough to cause the entire universe (all the particles and energy in it) to instantly come into being.
Here we see the intellectual hypocrisy of Renaissance Man, alluded to earlier, in its full glory: Chance functions in the exact same way a deity does in ancient creation myths. Renaissance Man prostrates himself in front of his deity Chance while claiming to be free of the (amusingly childish and primitive) worship of deity; to Chance he allocates the power to generate the material universe out of nothing, in a single instant, and at the same instant specify the precise numerical values for cosmic constants that produce a stable, diverse, and life-capable cosmos.
Of course, he must camouflage the hypocrisy, so he douses it liberally with technical-sounding language: “quantum mechanics”, “singularity”, “random” etc. My favorite is “Scientists believe…” In the quote above, you see an invocation (out of its proper context) of the mystical sounding “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”. This principle has nothing to do with chance or unknowable causes; it is about knowing both the location and the velocity of very small particles. It has no bearing on the discussion above, but it is invoked by name for its mystifying function. The intent of all this techno-mystical language is to intimidate all who lack sufficient technical education to penetrate the conversational fog artificially induced by use of these terms.
For example, “singularity” is routinely used as if it refers to something concrete in physics, like forces and particles, but in reality it does not; instead it only refers to a point on some axis where the mathematics breaks down, technically akin to dividing by zero. Dividing by zero might get you an F on a math quiz, but it has no physical impact on particles or forces, and it certainly does not create them; neither does a singularity.
Once again, in its opening statement Genesis baldly challenges this religious dogma: God, a personal and infinite being, and not chance, caused the universe to come into being. Therefore, says Renaissance Man (using a faulty dilemma fallacy), Genesis cannot be anything but a myth.
All the fundamental physical entities (particles, energy and forces) are self-existent; once they appeared, they don’t need an external driver to keep on existing.
To their credit, ancient Greek philosophers struggled to explain the continuing existence of the material universe; they understood that this is not a given. Some today will admit that this is the most vexing philosophical question ever: Why is there anything? It is vexing to the professional philosopher because no matter how an entity came into existence, no one can find a reason or cause to force it to continue to exist. Not, that is, without resorting to deity.
But undeterred by the professional philosophers, Renaissance Man has an answer: these things have in themselves the power to exist. This power (aseity) is intrinsic to all physical entities, he says. So, although Renaissance Man insists there are no deities, especially those deities in the rivers, mountains and thunderstorms that are so amusingly primitive, he awards not just rivers and storms but every particle, force and every bit of energy as having the god-like power of self-existence.
Ooops. It’s deus (so to speak) ex machina on a cosmic scale.
Although you don’t find it explicitly asserted within Genesis, it is easily and logically deduced that the God who created the universe must also sustain it moment by moment. In the latter part of the Bible, this implicit statement is stated explicitly: “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” and “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
As forces go, chance is now relatively weak and therefore it takes a long (long) time to cause changes (like speciation and geological features) in the physical universe.
Nevermind that the force that allegedly created the entire universe once upon a nanosecond has now become so weak; we will let one that stand for now. This one arises because of one Darwinian dogma: There is a physical mechanism or force that, over long periods of time, causes new and useful information to appear spontaneously in the DNA and RNA of living reproductive cells.
Because he’s not sure what force or mechanism might actually do this–no scientific experiment has yet revealed a viable candidate–Renaissance Man reverts to his undercover deity Chance, and couples it with a second entity that he also treats as a deity:
Lots (and lots and lots) of Time.
Small amounts of time are not enough; there must be lots of it, so that Chance can work its magic. This religious campaign is built on our innate reverence for large numbers. On camera, when explaining the long periods of time required, Dr. Carl Sagan used to repeat in slow, worshipful tones the mantra “millions and millions”. Sometimes he would glorify it further: “billions and billions”. [Incidentally, his voice sounded exactly like a Benedictine monk reciting the Pater Noster.] Dr. Sagan loved talking about Chance, but he really loved talking about Chance coupled with Lots of Time.
Man has a long history of ascribing creation powers to the coupling of two mystical entities. In the Babylonian Enuma Elish creation epic, Apsu and his mate Tiamat are described as “mingling their waters together” and giving birth to new things. Like Apsu and his mate, Chance and LotsaTime work together creatively. “Together,” says Renaissance Man “Time and Chance could do anything–and they must have, you see. Just look around at all the diversity. Time plus Chance is the only possible explanation.”
Renaissance Man, while snickering at one moment at the quaintly primitive idea of mating deities, in the next moment asserts that the coupling of Chance with LotsaTime is the cause of the diversity in the universe we see today: diverse plants and animals; diverse elements like iron, silver and technetium; diverse galactic features; and diverse geologic features like oceans, canyons and mountains. He may not call them deities, but like Apsu and Tiamat mating in the Babylonian epic, in his cosmology they function as deities in every way.
Unfortunately for Renaissance Man, this boat is sinking. Month after month, in thousands of petri dishes, aquariums and cages around the globe, species stay the same. Every ten days, no matter how it is picked on (natural selection speeded up), the fruit fly produces only fruit flies. Euglenas and parameciums refuse to produce anything but euglenas and parameciums. Worse yet, day after day, in millions of databases around the world–each one simulating the RNA and DNA database in our chromosomes–no new useful information appears. Occasionally, a data base suffers from corruption (like a birth defect, or cancer in our cells); but never has any new and useful information appeared ex nihilo in a database. The database in your smart phone does not randomly produce new and useable (perfectly functioning) apps; on the contrary, occasionally it encounters corrupted data, and must be rebooted to eliminate the resulting malfunction.
On a huge scale, science is demonstrating the largest null result of all: no new species are appearing in our scientific experiments; no new randomly created apps are appearing in our smart phones. No one has been awarded a Nobel prize for demonstrating in a scientific experiment the origin of a completely new species by natural selection.
Because Genesis describes all the diversity of life and the material world as the result of the personal craftsmanship of a creator operating both inside and outside of time and space, and not the coupling of the deity Chance with the deity LotsaTime, Renaissance Man must reject it–for him, Genesis cannot be saved.
This sketch illustrates why Renaissance Man rejects the first nine chapters of Genesis a priori. We now turn to some reasons these nine chapters are an essential part of Christianity. In other words, here’s why Christianity collapses without them.
- Genesis presents itself as a historical record, not as a myth.
- It reveals God’s work at the creation and the resulting ethical imperatives.
- It records the curses on Adam and Eve, and how they differed.
- It records that patriarchy is a curse.
Genesis presents itself as a historical record, not as a myth.
Good scholarship requires that we treat a document according to what kind of literature that the wording in the document presents. We distinguish between documents whose purpose is to inform from those whose purpose is to entertain. When we find phrases like “Once upon a time in a land far away…” or “It was a dark and stormy night…” it means the document presents itself as fiction (myth, fable etc.), and we can expect to be entertained and amused. When we find a high percentage of word pictures, metaphors and similes, it means we are dealing with poetry. When we find a high percentage of name-calling and logical fallacies, we can be sure we are dealing with polemic or propaganda. When we find a high percentage of definitions and logical arguments we can be sure we are dealing with serious didactic. Therefore, when we find “this is the written record” and “this is the record” repeated periodically in these nine chapters, it means we are dealing with historical accounts.
Further, these nine chapters present themselves as eyewitness accounts, the strongest possible historical record. Even in the first chapter, where the scope is cosmic in proportion to what follows, an observer is identified near the surface of the rotating earth, seeing the surface-specific phenomena of sunrise and sunset. This observer is identified as a person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, “hovering near the surface of the waters”.
The events described in later sections–even the very unusual ones–are credibly within the personal experience of the person whose name appears after “this is the record of…”. That person’s death is typically recorded shortly after their name appears as having a record, as we would expect if their surviving descendants picked up the narrative, appending their own record to their ancestor’s. The complete absence of myth and fable language is striking. If Renaissance Man insists that these are myth or fable, he will need to produce arguments that demonstrate conclusively that they could not possibly be reliable eyewitness accounts–otherwise, he is merely asserting his conclusion.
Unlike Hinduism and many other religious traditions, Christianity is rooted in a strong tradition of accurate written history–so strong that the sins, mistakes and foibles of its leaders and heros are faithfully recorded. Among religions, only Judaism shares this trait with Christianity. The flow of actual events–events that range from minor household events such as cooking a meal to the wars between kings and nations–this flow is used by the God of the Bible to reveal Himself and His agenda. He repeatedly points to the history of His interaction with the tribes of Israel, for example, as revealing His character and His will for His people. For this reason, Reformation Man has a high regard for the flow of events, and for accurate records of those events.
It reveals God’s work at the creation and the resulting ethical imperatives.
Given this high regard, and the acknowledgement that no one can logically rule out the possibility of God existing outside time and space, Reformation Man finds the unusual and occasionally extreme events described in the first nine chapters to be logically consistent with the first statement. In other words, a God who exists outside of time and space can conceivably create the not only the universe, but time and space; if He can do that He can do anything.
Reformation Man also acknowledges the ethical implications of creation: if we owe our existence to this Creator, and we see the very good context He created for our existence, we are ethically obligated, at the bare minimum, to both acknowledge His good nature and to give Him thanks for creating us and the good universe. A corollary also follows: that from His good nature, if we want fully to experience His good we should comply with His ethics.
It records the curses on Adam and Eve, and how they differed.
This information is critical for Reformation Man, because in the curses we find that Eve and Adam, although equal in their value before God and in their responsibility for creatively executing their joint mission, did not have identical roles in the cosmos. This difference in roles turns out to be the means by which God saves His people.
Adam and Eve jointly shared the image of God, and they shared a joint mission:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
However, after the two sin and God curses them, a distinct difference appears: because Adam sinned, through him the entire material universe is also cursed.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field…
Although she was the first to sin, God’s curse on Eve does not have this sweeping scope. Paul explains how this difference in assigned roles both brought sin and death to all men, and how Adam’s unique role is essential for Christ to save us:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
In a letter to the Corinthian Christians Paul sums this up:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive… Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
The complete absence of Eve’s name in these passages and the emphasis on Adam alone tells us that God assigned Adam, as the first human, a representative role that Eve did not share. When we go back to the curses in Genesis 3 and see that his curse affected the material world, we see that Adam not only represented all of humanity before God, but also the material universe.
This unique role is how God saves not only humans but His creation: He assigns the same unique representative role to Jesus, the last Adam, and He assigns His people to Jesus’ constituency. Now, those still in the constituency of the first Adam are under the sentence of death, but because Jesus obeyed perfectly and died for their sin, the people in His constituency are given eternal life. Through this “last Adam” the material universe will also be saved; the good news for mankind is good news for the universe.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.
It records that patriarchy is a curse.
This one is a problem for all those evangelicals who are attempting to sprinkle holy water on Genesis 3:16 and turn patriarchy into a blessing for women. They do this by calling attention to “the creation order” (that is, Adam was created first, then Eve) and somehow making that a universal principle; they want to extrapolate this order (involving just two actual persons) to all men and to all women. They award all women a subservient place to all men. I am not making this up.
This is partly done by talking about a husband’s authority without first talking thoroughly about his responsibility. That is, the issue is approached completely backwards. Only after responsibility has been thoroughly examined and clarified can authority be properly understood–responsibility provides the necessary context for authority. Man’s sinful heart, however is always seeking autonomy–escape from his responsibilities to God, so that he can wield his authority freely. Just like Lucifer.
This universal application and the resulting subservience view requires some dodging of the meaning of the Hebrew term ezer in Genesis 2:18, but that is another blog post. Suffice it to say that the rule of a man over his wife is a curse, and nothing but a curse; no scripture has ever revoked it. Instead, scripture points Reformation Man to a uniquely supernatural partnership in marriage, that frankly is just as outrageous as anything else in the Bible: a three-way partnership of a man, a woman, and the Holy Spirit. This partnership makes the invisible reality of the Trinity become visible in the ordinary lives of husbands and wives, as they practice making truly joint, truly three-way decisions without resorting to the distortion of patriarchy (or matriarchy).
But that is another blog post.