Category Archives: creation theories

fallible language V: speaking about creation


We’re still in a series that I’ve begun last winter, about fallibility of language (find part I, part II, part III and part IV here) in which we were looking at the way in which language fails us sometimes.

We’ve been talking about God and theology, but today we’re going to go to a more specific discussion, that is very important for certain people in my own broad tribe of evangelicalism: speaking about Creation.

I’ve always found the 2 most vocal major streams of thought within contemporary Christianity equally irritating; at one hand you have the very militant creationists, who claim to know scientifically exactly how God has made the world in a lot more details than the bible can provide. And if you don’t follow them you don’t believe in the bible and you’ll lose your faith. On the other side you have those who have an equally big faith in science and who know that science has the last word in everything, and if there’s anything in Christianity or the bible that goes against the findings of modern science we should get rid of it…

To be honest, I find both positions to be equally impotent and signs of a quite uncritical synchretism with the arrogant optimism of the enlightenment that we human beings can and will know everything. My thoughts on how Creation has happened may have shifted over the years, but one of the things I’ve always known is that the circumstances of how God made the world are not likely to be found out completely by our science, the visible does not stem from what we can see, and neither that any description of it will ever be complete and able to scientifically nail down what happened.

Vinoth Ramachandra, writing from an Evangelical but non-Western Point of View, puts it this way in his excellent but quite heavy book ‘subverting global myths’:

Creationism and evolutions are simply mirror images of each other. The former reduces the Christian doctrine of creation to the level of a scientific account of chronological origins, and the latter elevated the biological theory of revolution into a total worldview. Paradoxically,creationist and evolutionists have more in common than they each realize: Both work within a “universe-as-machine” picture of the world, so that Gods relationship with the world can only be conceived in the form of ingeneer-type interventions which have to be scientifically inexplicable.

But the whole “universe as a machine” framework is just a modern way we think we make sense of the world… And Creation is something that happened outside of the things that we know and have words for, and something that was not witnessed by us. So I’d expect science to be able to find out something, but not at all even the main thing. Only of you’re a purely materialist Christian you could believe such a thing… (We’ve actually had discussions about evolution and spiritual beings here on this blog a while ago) But neither would I believe that an God-inspired description would be ever complete, it would just be an assurance that indeed God is the Creator. (the question about the origin of angels and demons is still there btw, genesis doesn’t say a word about this!)

With all of this in mind, I found the Orthodox way of looking at the subject of Creation much more interesting. Let’s go back to ‘light from the Christian East’:

For one thing, the Orthodox emphasis on our human inability to conceive of and speak about God and creation together could help us escape the sometimes acrimonious “creation versus evolution” arguments that so often have bedeviled reflection on the creation among Western Christians over the last century or so. From the perspectives of Orthodoxy, the first chapters of Genesis do not explain creation. Creation was God’s act, and no amount of human intellectual ingenuity could ever account for it, nor any human words capture it. The terse affirmations made in Genesis 1-2 do not amount to explanations or even descriptions, from an Orthodox perspective; they confront us with the declaration that all that is came from God. In presenting the entire universe as God’s creative handiwork, Orthodoxy excludes all thought of an evolutionary process operating outside of God, to be sure. Equally, it precludes any arrogant claim to comprehend from the first chapters of Genesis how God brought everything into existence. What Scripture presents is the declaration that God made all that is, without any attempt to clarify how all came into being. The opening chapters of Genesis present what must be wondered at, not what can be fathomed. They offer stimulation for common praise by all those who believe in him, not material with which we should brow-beat fellow believers whose ideas about the way in which God may have accomplished that work differ from ours.
Further, even if God had explained it to us, could we have understood it? What language could God borrow to explain to mere creatures the act of creation so that we could comprehend it? If his ways and thoughts are beyond ours (Is 55:8-9), should we not offer humble praise for his creation and what hè has told us about it, rather than fighting among ourselves as to who best comprehends how God brought all things into existence? Is the beginning of Scripture intended to satisfy our intellectual curiosity about “how,” or is it to invite us to celebrate “what” and “who”? Western Christians could learn a bit more humility in speaking about creation and God from their brothers and sisters in Eastern Orthodoxy. (Payton)

Now that’s a bit like what I think about the subject, but much more eloquently worded…

what do you think?

Shalom

Bram

see also this post and the discussion under it, on evolutionary creationism and angels…

Mammoths, speed-evolution, and the Ark of Noah…


Let me start by saying that I don’t have any problem with Christians believing in either 6-day-creation or evolutionary creation, even though I might have a problem with making ‘isms’ out of this kind of ideas. My own position is that the Creation of the world is bigger than what we can investigate scientifically, and that we’ll never know all of the story, no matter how long we dig and measure and theorise, since the visible is not made out of what we can percieve, to paraphrase the letter to the Hebrews. That said I do tend to be convinced by an older earth, and by the general idea of evolution, but the most important thing is to acknowlegde that God is the creator… In the end all our theories about how He did create the world are probably cute and funny to Him, but not really to the point…

A problem can exist when people do have to believe a certain position on this subject to not be dismissed as either a false or at least compromising Christian (with the fundamentalist side) or a dumb idiot that cannot be taken seriously (the liberal side), and I see both of these on the internet all the time… Indeed, the problem is that there is a form of 6-days-creationism that runs rampant on the internet, which isn’t only rigily exclusive (all other views are heretical and make the bible worthless!) as scientifically completely nonsense for people who have done more studies than a simple secondary school curriculum… So people encountering this view might dismiss christianity completely, and I would do the same if let’s say Ken Ham or Doctor Dino would be able to prove me that his view was the right Christianity. I would just not at all be interested in Christianity… And it would have nothing to do with Christ… (Christ Himself should be the reason to accept or reject Christianity. All in Christianity should lead towards Him)

I once had an online discussion with a guy who was a strong believer in a very rigid form of 6-day-creationism. Unlike the view I had a teenager, which believed in an earth of at least 12.000 years, he believed in an earth of approximately 6.000 years. And he surely would have seen my former creationism model as compromised and not biblical, even though it was much more scientifically convincing, let alone more coherent. Which his model wasn’t if we went into details.

One funny discussion we had was about mammoths. As everybody knows, the Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenus) is a hairy elephant which roamed most of the northern hemisphere, and of which a lot of fossils (and even intact frozen specimens) have been found. But somehow the species dissapeared, and now we don’t have any of those hanging around anymore…

In his view the earth had to be completely repopulated with animals and humans after the great flood, some 4000 years ago. And all the mammoths are too recent to be from before the flood, so they are from after the flood.

Especially because, according to a view that some call baraminology, all elephants come from one pair of proto-elephants on the ark. Including the woolly mammoth. Noah did not have much place to put more pairs of elephantids on the ark anyway, and anyway mammoths are actually closer related to the Indian elephant than the 2 living species of African elephants are… (if one can believe phylogenetics, a field of science that is not epmloyed much in the strict creationist camp)

In his time table, the ‘ice age’ was shortly after the flood. And the mammoths were wiped away by the ice age…

Now there are 2 problems:

first there is the problem that it takes a lot of time to fill the Northern hemisphere with mammoths. Elephants are slow breeding animals. To think that they would fill 3 continents in a few hundreds of years, and then all die out because of a climate change is quite extra-ordinary in my view.  Anyone who knows about population statistics will agree with me…

The second problem is the problem of micro/macro-evolution. According to baraminology God created the animals all ‘after its kind’, which later ‘evolved’ into a broader group of species. So a doglike animal would be the forefather of all dogs, wolves and jackals (and foxes?), just like the proto-horse would be the forefather of all of the Equus genus: horses, asses, zebra’s and probly the now-extinct 3-toed fossil specied too… Likewise all elephants are considered to be of one baramin. (the word itself is bad use of Hebrew) So the proto-elephant pair that came from the ark must have evolved really fast in Indian and African elephants, and our Woolly mammoths… So this kind of ‘micro-evolution’ must have gone really really fast just after the flood…

In the end the one pair of proto-elephants from the ark had to evolve really fast in the different species, of which the mammoths had to spread to almost everywhere on the northern hemisphere… And they had to fill those 3 continents, just to die out, and all of that in a few hundreds of years…

I have no idea how he’d explain the numerous exctinct elephantids that are known to man. Except with a theory that ‘micro’evolution happened very fast before and just after the flood, but for some reason slowed down a lot after that… And then the whole theorie sometimes seems to hang on the impossibility of macro-evolution…

All I can say is that I’m glad that my faith does not depend on this kind of weird theories…

shalom

Bram

Reclaiming supernaturalism II: on my problem with christian materialism


I’m in a blogging streak right now. so one more post in this ‘open-source theology project’ on post-evangelical thought and supernaturalism in Christianity, and I hope that after this one I’ll be writing one more post about Dan Brennans book on cross-gender friendships (see posts  -1, 0, 1).

So I started with my concern about how the currend trends of accepting evolution (and other ones) to me seem to open the door to (post-)evangelicals for a christianity without supernaturalism. I know very well this such a thing is not necessary outcome of accepting a more evolutionary creation view, and also that for example in the more liberal churches that there already are pretty naturalistic forms  of christianity. But still I do see that a lot of people beyond the post-modern paradigm shift and in the emerging church discussion don’t have much to say about the supernatural realm, and tend to be or silent on this subject, or to lean more to the ‘liberal’ side, which accepts naturalism as a reality and tries to incorporate it into a more materialistic kind of christianity.

But my problem -as someone from a charismatic background who from experience cannot deny the supernatural in different forms- with this christian materialism is that I can’t see it as something other than unrealistic synchretism of christianity with the theories of post-enlightenment western thinking, without being informed by a more spiritual reality. I don’t believe that the line between natural and supernatural is more than a practical line, which has been drawn during the enlightenment period between what could be measured and investigated, and what not… So we as westeners divided the visible from the invisible and made a materialistic wordview, in which only the visible exists, the rest is nonsense, superstition, whatever. (Very safe worldview if you are affraid of the onknown and looking for security…)

I do believe that this form on naturalism is mainly a western idea, and Christians nor non-christians in other parts of the world wil never fall for it since they do experience the supernatural…

Now it is true that the one big problem with the invisible still is that it is invisible, and we don’t know much about it… We cannot research it in a scientific way, as we can do with the visible. So it’s one area that we cannot know much of, except from experiences and subjective interpretations of things that go beyond our rationality. And what I lump together here as the invisble does not have to be monolythinc, in fact I very hard doubt it is… There might be lines and divisions in the invisible that could be drawn, that are way more clear than our natural/supernatural divide…

There are cultures in which there is no divide between the natural and the supernatural, in which all of the world is one continuum including both. And even if there might be a lot superstition, wrong explanation of the invisible and even demonic influenced false information, I think they are closer to seeing the world as it is than western materialism will ever be able to be. For example I think there is more than just demonic lies behind all the talk about chackras, auras and stuff, even if the explanations given are wrong, there is some reality behind them. And some stuff in the paranormal department might also be just ‘invisible physics. The problem with us westeners and the invisible is that we are totally disconnected with it, which is very dangerous if we are going to experiment with it unprotected. New agers flashing on everything spiritual and supernatural are very likely to meet some things that are not as friendly -and useful- as they seem….

So I believe that here in the ‘natural’ world there also is an invisible half that we don’t know of, and can’t know of in the same way as we know the visible half, since we are not able to investigate it in any meanigful way according to the standards of our rational and emprical paradigms… But to dismiss it for that reason is just wishful thinking in my eyes, like the proverbial ostrich who pust its head in the sand to not see his enemy. Or is that only an expression in dutch?

(this subject gives funny conversations with new atheists btw…)

The realm of angels and demons might be something totally different than the invisible part of ‘our’ universe… I’ve even wondered if there is a category of more ‘natural’ spirits that are part of our world, and that totally different from the messenger or archangels who have their own world… But that would be more speculation…

But my proposal is that we as postmoderns, even if we don’t know how to categorise it, make room again for the supernatural in our christian worldview. And then I’m not even speaking of the works of the Spirit, just about the supernatural site of Creation (our universe, and maybe beyond…)

(and I do not say that naturalist christians are heretics, I will only say that in my opinion they might miss an entire dimension of Christianity, in which they can experience the Salvation of Christ in the ‘here and now’ part of the Kingdom…)

shalom

Bram

Reclaiming supernaturalism: on evolutionary creationism and angels..


So I’m looking for people to help me with these questions. It might not be the most important part of theology to re-imagine in this postmodern paradigm shift, but still I’m struggling with these questions without seeing anyone who seems wantig or able to answer them…

There’s been a lot of talk on the fringes of (post-)evangelicalism about evolution lately, and in lots of other streams of Christianity the whole evolution debate isn’t even a question, evolution is combined with christianity without questions. Now I am on neither side of the debate between creationism/evolution, my position could be called something like post-modern origin agnostic creationist.  Agnostic in the sense of ‘we cannot know’ I do believe that the visible does not come from what we can see, and that Creation is something bigger than we can ever grasp, and even if we could, we don’t ahev the words and concepts in our languages to even explain what happened there; so I would not be surpised if the creation stories are just a symbolic way of telling the unspeakable, or godly baby-talk (accomodation in theological lingo)…

But I do believe that our science has the ability to say more or less meaningful things about the physical part of our universe. It has nothing to say about the invisible, and the spiritual, and whatever there is we don’t even know of, but it is in observing and describing the material world… So if we can trust science more or less about the history of this physical part of the universe, we have a history longer than 10.000 years, and there might be some kind of common descent of biological life forms. But for the sake of this quest we will go with evolutionary creationism, in which the Creator  created an ever-evolving world (the implication of free-will theology when you take it beyond humanity?) in which humans have developed from this ever-evolving life; and have been taken to a ‘higher plan’ as ‘imago dei’.

Now we go to a totally different aspect of my faith. I do believe that Christianity implies supernaturalism. I come from charismatic forms of Christianity (pentecostel as a kid, vineyard later until this very moment), and even for all the critique I have for some things in charismatic christianity I will never be able to deny the supernatural. I do believe that signs and wonders are one aspect of the Kingdom of God (one that is not mentioned that much in most of the emerging discussion about the Kingom… though the conversations about the future of the theology of the Spirit on Deep church for example are hopeful) But that’s a topic for another discussion.

There’s another aspect of supernaturalism that I can’t deny, even at moments when I doubte every explanation and theology about it that I’ve ever know. Let’s call it angels and demons, for that’s what it’s mostly called. I cannot deny them, nor can I deny exorcism, I have had some weird experiences in my life (about which I will not blog, but be free to discuss about them with via email) and I’ve heard witness reports from people I trust (and aven more from people I’m not sure of or don’t know…) There must be something like it… Nothing on earth will ever convince me of the opposite…

So here do we have a problem… What do we do with those spiritual entities in a worldview in which at least the material part of the universe is evolving?
* Are they unlike us created and do we follow the evangelical stories about angels who were created as robotlike serving spirits, of whom 1/3th rebelled and created demons?
* Do we find a way to theorise about the evolution of Spiritual entities? Are they ‘emerging properties’ of the spiritual side of the evolving world in one way? Are demons viruslike parts of damaged spirits that found ways to live on and in some way reproduce? Or are archangels beings that were create dto oversee the processes of an ever-evolving nature (of which one rebelled?)
* Do we just admit that it’s a mystery of which we will not be able to say anthing meaningful? We miss the words and concepts to explain what they are, so we remain silent? I bet we as humans won’t even be able to do such a thing…

So I want to ask if there is anyone like me, who falls broadly in the category of evolutionary creationists who believe in spiritual entities, what do you think??? (I don’t mind people saying they do believe in old-earth creationism or materialism without spiritual beings, but please do not hi-jack this discussion and be respectful…) How do we reconcile the evolution idea which tend to lead to materialism with spirit beings?

in hope of an interesting conversation…

shalom

Bram