Genesis 9:17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
As the waters rise, as the scientists warn, as Greenland is growing its own lettuce for the first time, the response from many Americans is basically some variation of the above verse from Genesis, where God reassures Noah that, no, I will not fill the world with water and make every living creature live on a Neolithic barge. Again.
The Reverend Timothy Keller, PhD, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NY, NY, wrote a wonderful essay on threading the needle between modern science and orthodox Christianity (link to essay http://www.biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf) where in a style which I learned to appreciate, he spells out the basic problems in a tripartite apologia –his preferred format for preaching to the yuppies. He writes:
Question #1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?
Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.
Question#2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?
Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world- view.
Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?
Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.
The response from the bench is predictable as this dispute between literalists and the interpreters predates Christianity. This dichotomy is likely a manifestation of human speech and all the neurologic wiring that entails. I can imagine this conversation between Erg and !Kerg, two chatty Australopithecines.
Erg: When the great Mother cried her tears and made the seas in ten days and she laid down to become the great Mother mountain yonder, that would mean that she would have had to cry about 1/10th of the volume of the world’s waters in a day… That’s a lot of water. Could this mean that a day in Her time was much longer than a day is now? Could this mean that she was much bigger once and made bigger tears and shrank to become the Mother mountain? Could…
!Kerg clubs Erg.
The commentary from the literalists on Dr. Keller’s essay ranges from, “…Professor Keller is trying to square the circle…[scripture quotes]…and therefore the day in Genesis is clearly 24 hours” to “club!” While I concede that many New Yorkers would welcome the opportunity to live in the belly of a whale, most thinking people scratch their heads and think that Hansel and Gretel’s cannibal witch is far more grounded in reality than a cetacean studio.
The fact and reality of science and modernity puts a great deal of pressure on an unchanging orthodoxy. Those most willing and capable of thoughtful change are never in the majority. The Malthusian concept could just as easily apply to this: the educated breed arithmetically while the orthodox breed geometrically.
Time and again, when learning and education flower, the bright lights of the world are drowned out by a flood of fear and ignorance. The execution of the Chinese scholars, the torching of the Alexandrine library, the sacking of Irish monastaries, Galileo, Darwin, and Rushdie –these are the normal patterns. When the creators of South Park have to stop their series mid-season to be censored by the orthodox of several religions in a country that places free speech before all other rights except the right not to have Congress establish a state religion, it confirms that before the great flood, there is an even greater flood of intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and incivility.
May God keep you and bless you, if you so tend to believe.