Category Archives: Evolution

Thoughts on the Human Origins Debate and Culture Wars

Recently, I have had my great admiration for the popular author and blogger Rachel Held Evans deeply questioned. I was told that although she was an eloquent and beautiful writer, her ideas were incompatible with scripture and that I should be very careful about exposing myself to human thoughts that run contrary to God’s Word. It felt like a small taste of what Rachel must experience on a regular basis from other evangelicals, and it wasn’t an experience I enjoyed very much—although I must admit that the person I was speaking with inspired me to remember that God’s word always has the authority (as I noted in my previous blog post).

However, after watching Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate about creation vs. evolution last night, I feel the need to express why exactly I appreciate Rachel’s perspective so much. Just like I told the friend I had the aforementioned discussion with, I love Rachel’s writing because it is so inclusive. She offers room for disagreement and never claims that her word is the final word, or even worse that her word is God’s Word. She writes with a tremendous amount of humility, respect, and faithfulness both to scripture and to this modern world we live in. She helps me make sense of things that otherwise seem impossible to reconcile, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

All right. I’m done gushing now; let me get back to my purpose for writing this post. This morning I was perusing all the various reactions to the debate, and as often happens when I’m reading internet articles, I ended up following a rabbit trail to articles written a few years ago on the human origins debate and the Bible. In the articles I dug up, Rachel and Ken Ham were essentially responding to each other’s statements about the authority of the Bible and what it means for the historicity of the creation account.

On his website, Ken Ham posted this article, which I found to be infuriating. It was loaded with buzzwords and buzz phrases that really got under my skin and reveal the reality of Ham’s agenda. He describes evolution as the “indoctrination of our age”, essentially dismissing it as a religion and not a science that has no scientific plausibility and a plethora of harmful effects on my generation. Ham also laments that Rachel “has no doubt been led astray by compromising church leaders”, despite the fact that she is very clear in her book and on her blog that honest research into the science of evolution led to the position she has adopted, and that her change of mind had little to do with what liberal church leaders were teaching her.

Speaking of  the word liberal, Ham also makes this harsh statement: “the BioLogos website indoctrinates people in rank liberalism”. BioLogos is an organization founded by the head of the human genome project, Francis Collins. The website offers an exploration of theistic evolution, and how we can understand that evolutionary science points to the immanent and awesome power of our God. The scientists at BioLogos simply hold that science and religion are completely capable of compatibility. There is nothing rank or liberal about it—Ken Ham is simply projecting negatively saturated political ideology onto a science organization.

What bothered me the most about Ham’s article was his avid devotion to fighting a culture war over this his beliefs. He concludes his article with this remarkably antagonistic statement: “Well, Rachel, I have news for you.  Your generation is not ready to call a truce in this battle in the culture wars; in fact, we are finding more and more people are getting enthusiastically involved in fighting the culture war by standing uncompromisingly and unashamedly on God’s authoritative Word.” Whether you agree with Ham or not, I think it is quite safe to say that his words are divisive, one-sided, and completely committed to keeping battle lines intact.

And here I circle back to why I have so much more respect for Rachel Held Evans than I do for Ken Ham, even though it has been suggested to me that her ideas are not “firmly grounded in Scripture.” She answers Ken Ham’s accusations in this blog post, which she concludes with this wise statement:

“I am not asking Ken to change his interpretation of Genesis or even his devotion to it.  If he believes it is the best interpretation, then he should continue to commit his outstanding energy, creativity, and resourcefulness to promoting it. I respect his conviction and I count him as a brother in Christ because, at the end of the day, Ken and I agree on what’s most important —that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

All I am asking is that he honor this common bond and join me in making peace, in acknowledging that there is enough room in Christianity for both of us and that we can talk about this issue without our weapons drawn. We don’t need a Church in which everyone agrees on the age of the earth. We need a Church that is committed to the Apostle Paul’s instructions that “if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).””

This is a far cry from Ham’s devotion to a culture war, and serves to illustrate the fundamental difference in these two ideologies. Ham says the entire Christian faith depends on a literal interpretation of Genesis. Rachel says such things as differing ideas on biblical  interpretation are peripheral to our commitment to unity as a body of Christ. There is room for a truce, room for conflicting ideas to put down their weapons and join each other in communion. Why is that so hard to accept?

Who Is the Serpent of Genesis 3 Anyway?

For awhile now, I’ve been analyzing the daylights out of the creation account in Genesis, reading it and rereading it, willing it to bend to the interpretation I’ve always been told to believe about it and failing miserably. The entire passages of Genesis 1-3 reads so much more like a mythic story than a literal historical record to me, and especially since I’ve done some reading up on the science behind evolution, I’ve realized that literal or no, I’ll never be able to read Genesis the same way again.

There’s one thing in particular that has been bugging me a lot. The serpent. Here are the two relevant Genesis passages that mention a serpent as the creature responsible for tempting Eve to sin:

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” — Genesis 3:1

The Lord God said to the serpent,“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”” — Genesis 3:14-15

I find it absolutely flabbergasting that we can read these two passages, and discern from them that Satan entered the mind of the serpent and worked through the serpent to convince Eve to sin. It doesn’t make sense to me on lot of different levels. If Satan possessed the serpent, then the serpent was in no way responsible for its words. Why then does God blame the serpent, and punish it, but make no mention of Satan or bring him to justice? That doesn’t seem to me like a very fair move on God’s part. And what’s more, there is absolutely NO hint of the presence of Satan in these Genesis 3 passages. None whatsoever. There is no mention of Satan possessing the serpent’s mind, no suggestion that the serpent was not acting of its own volition when it spoke to Eve. It just isn’t there.

The way I see it, there are three reasons why it is so conclusively believed among Christian circles that Satan did indeed possess the serpent. The first comes from inferring that because Revelation 12:9, 14, and 15 (“that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan”, “out of the serpent’s reach”, and “the serpent spewed water like a river”) and Revelation 20:2 (“he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan”) explicitly use a serpent as a metaphor for Satan, that Genesis 3 must be doing the same thing. But that also makes no sense whatsoever. Firstly, because in the Revelation verses, the serpent is a METAPHOR for Satan. But no one believes that the serpent in Genesis 3 is a metaphor – they believe it is a real, flesh and blood serpent that Satan possessed. The Revelation and Genesis references just don’t compare, don’t line up correctly at all. If we’re going to be consistent in how we use scripture to interpret scripture, we must come to the conclusion that if Revelation uses the serpent as a metaphor, then so does Genesis 3!

Also, I think it’s just ridiculously sloppy exegesis that we’re okay with looking at the last book of the Bible—which was written more than a millennium after the first book of the Bible—and use two random little sentences from it to decipher the identity of the serpent in Genesis 3! Really?! Maybe I’m missing something huge (I probably am; I’ll admit these ideas are just coming from my own reading of scripture and my own understandings of what I’ve been taught, and not from any sound scholarly research), but that seems like an enormously logic-defying leap to me. It would be one thing if there was a hint to support this idea in Genesis 3, but there isn’t. Not even a tiny clue. We are relying exclusively on the Revelation phrases to interpret Genesis 3, and the idea of doing that feels absolutely preposterous to me.

Okay, so secondly, I think we latch onto that enigmatic phrase, “he shall bruise your head, / and you shall bruise his heel” to determine that Satan, not the snake, is the one who is literally responsible for tempting Eve. We look at that sentence, throw it haphazardly alongside Romans 16:20 (“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”), and say that, once again, the New Testament is helping us understand the Old. But to my mind, just because the two phrases have like, two words  that are sort of in common (bruise/crush, feet/heel), it doesn’t mean that the “you” in the Genesis phrase is a pronoun of “Satan” in the Romans phrase! And there is another problem with trying to relate these two phrases. In Romans 16:20, God is the one doing the crushing. But in Genesis 3:15, the “woman’s offspring” is responsible for bruising the serpent’s head. Again, two completely different ideas here. I don’t know what the meaning of Genesis 3:15 really is, but common sense tells me it’s just an extension of the curse originally placed on the serpent in verse 14.

There is a third and final reason the myth that Satan entered the mind of the snake has been so frequently perpetuated that it has essentially become considered a fact. Basically, it is the only rendering that makes sense within a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.  That’s it. It’s the only way to make sense of the idea that a serpent could up and randomly talk Eve into the most fatal decision a human being has ever made. And oh my goodness, do we struggle mightily hard to force this to make sense. We infer wonderingly that all animals must have been able to speak in the Garden, since Eve wasn’t shocked when the serpent spoke to her (yet most fictional stories are absolutely saturated with talking animals!). We declare conclusively, “Ah! So that’s why snakes have no legs! God cursed them!”, while shrugging off other legless land animals like worms, certain species of lizards, etc. as…blessed to be created the way God created them, I guess? It’s absolutely bizarre, the lengths we’ll go to to defend an interpretation that in the end, makes so very little sense.

Now that I’ve finished my heretical pulling apart of the very fabric of Genesis (or so some would say), I would LOVE it if someone could enlighten me on something I’ve missed here. Is there a clear Biblical defense of the “Satan possessed the serpent” idea that I’ve totally missed? I really, really, reeeeally want to know it if there is! Seriously. I’d even welcome being proven wrong on this, because being right creates a lot of problems for how to approach Genesis (such as the origin of sin, for one!), and I’ve become so very tired of dealing with such pesky questions. But I will deal with them, because they aren’t just pesky…they are also, at least to me, quite legitimate.

“Answers in Genesis” Is Not Very Good at Answering Questions about Genesis

Today I’m gonna rant, because I’m very frustrated. In church for the last six months, we’ve been dipping our toes in a three-year study of Genesis, a curriculum provided by the organization Answers in Genesis, which exists to “equip” believers with “clear”, “non-negotiable” answers about the historical accuracy of the Creation and Flood stories and show us how belief in a literal creation account is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. Or something like that. I haven’t been paying too much attention, honestly, because I feel like I’m getting a ton of knowledge in the course, but none of my burning questions have been satisfactorily answered.

But that isn’t why I want to rant, although AIG’s stubborn, bold determination to defend young-earth creationism is certainly rant-worthy. I’m upset at their approach because they make it out to be an either-or scenario. If you believe in evolution, you’re scoffing at God and His Holy Word. If you believe in evolution, you can’t live out your faith with your intellectual integrity intact. If you believe in evolution, it’s not really possible for you to draw closer to God, because you believe in a pack of lies.

They make this thing out to be a colossal battle between evolutionists and creationists, with absolutely NO room for someone like me to stand in the middle and try to figure things out.

For example, here is a random smattering of article headings I grabbed from the AIG website. Notice their tone. Notice how militant they are! My rather snarky opinion about each title is in parentheses:

  • Doesn’t Carbon-14 Dating Disprove the Bible? (No, it is just a method, reliable or not, of dating the age of the earth. It doesn’t prove or disprove anything.)
  • Peter Enns Wants Children to Reject Genesis (No, he wants children to keep an open mind, study science and study the Bible for themselves instead of being told what to believe by their parents’ interpretation of Genesis.)
  • Peter Enns-Mutilating God’s Word (No, he is offering a very reasonable explanation for the scattered, broken, inconsistent nature of the Creation and Flood narratives.)
  • Evolution: The Anti-science (Really? It maybe wrong science for all I know, but ANTI-science?! As far as I know evolutionists come to their conclusions based on the study of the world around them, I’d say that counts as science!)
  • Feedback: Evolutionary Call to Arms (Oh yeah. Cuz all evolutionists are trying to wage a war on the Christian faith here. Even theistic evolutionsists.)
  • The Creation/Evolution Battle Resumes (time to strap on the armor of God! We’ve gotta strike down those evolutionists with our Swords of Truth!)
  • Creation or Evolution: Yes, We Have to Choose (Ah, no. Choosing evolution doesn’t mean we’re rejecting creation—it just means we’re saying God created 4.2 billion years ago instead of 6,000)

Maybe everything I said in parentheses was a little rude or disrespectful to AIG. But I’m just tired of the way they paint young-earth creationism as the ONLY possible “side” a faithful, honest Christian can choose. I’m a hair’s breadth away from accepting evolution. But I will never, never accept that my belief in it means I can’t be a devoted follower of Christ who loves God with all my heart. Science and faith should work in harmony. And so far, everything that theistic evolutionists are saying about the age of the earth and human origins is making a lot more sense to me than what Ken Ham’s website has to say. Plus they say it patiently and wisely, without the antagonism that absolutely saturates the AIG website (and this blog post, hah).