by Del Tackett


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The Genesis Issue: the Dichotomy

Yesterday, we laid out the four basic views on Genesis and origins. Today, we want to deal with the “dichotomies” that exist between these positions, and specifically, the one we dealt with in the film, “Is Genesis History?” The word “dichotomy” simply means “contrast” or “division” and where we drew that line raised some controversy and consternation.

Recall that these four positions are primarily characterized by how they view current scientific claims and how they treat the text in Genesis, specifically Genesis 1-11.

If you look at the picture, I have drawn a white dotted line that marks the first obvious division, or “dichotomy”, in the four views. This division has to do with the belief in the existence of God. The Secular Evolution position does not acknowledge His existence; the other three positions do. Now, this does not necessarily mean that someone who holds the Secular Evolution position doesn’t believe in the existence of God, it just means that when it comes to speaking, writing, teaching, researching or talking about origins, they don’t acknowledge Him.  If the point of the film had been to deal with the question of God’s existence, then we would have drawn the line between positions one and two and that would have been the focus of my questions to the scientists.

The second obvious division is represented by the black dotted line. It sets the demarcation between the belief in evolution or creation. Just the labels used for each position make drawing this line quite easy. It is important to note that the first two views are committed to evolutionary theory first when it comes to their position on Genesis. The Secular Evolution perspective disregards the text as either irrelevant to the discussion of origins or labels it as myth. The Deistic Evolution perspective, in most cases, embraces the Bible, yet it, too, is committed to evolution theory first. This necessitates interpreting Genesis in a genre in which the text can be “liquefied” so as to be easily reconciled with Evolutionary conclusions and timelines.

We need to stop here, because this is a critical point that must be understood. Liquefying a text means one declares it to be a flexible genre such as myth, poem or metaphor, where the interpretation of the words and text are left primarily up to the reader. I remember attending a “Folk Literature” class in college and was astounded at how “liquid” the professor encouraged us to make the works we were reading. I thought the story was about a boy and his dog, but she taught us to read into it whatever we wanted. The same happens to Scripture when we change the genre from historical narrative, where words have a fixed meaning, into metaphor, where the words are pliable and can be squeezed into most anything. This linguistic “switch” provides the mechanism for someone to look at words such as God creating Adam and Eve on Day six, which appear to be historical statements, but declare them instead to be metaphor and then interpret the passage to mean something radically different: that the progression of evolution reached a point where a hominid group had advanced enough to be metaphorically labeled “Adam and Eve”. This is the power that is granted to the reader when the text is moved from historical narrative to a genre of liquidity. It also allows one to still claim to “hold to the Bible” though in reality they have molded the Biblical text to match the scientific claims that they believe should be held to first.

However, this was not the dichotomy that we dealt with in the film. If it had been, I would have been asking questions focused upon evolution versus creation only.

This brings us to the final “division”, which is the large yellow line in the picture. It sets the “dichotomy” between the first three positions and the fourth position, Historical Creation.

This was the dichotomy that we dealt with in the film and it is here that the controversy and consternation arose.

The Deep Time Creationists didn’t like being lumped in with the first two positions (I don’t blame them) and so they accused us of creating a “false dichotomy”. Now I will agree that the line between positions two and three, evolution and creation, is a whole lot thicker than the line between three and four. But, the dichotomy between Historic Creationists and the other three views does exist and it is not insignificant.

Let’s look at it.

The Historical Creation view reads the Genesis text as a literal, historical narrative. This leads to a position that God created everything in the way it is laid out in the text: creation in the span of six days, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Fall, a global flood, a Tower of Babel, etc. The Historical Creation view begins with the text first and attempts to understand the world around us in light of that text rather than beginning with a scientific claim and trying to mold the text to fit that claim.

Those who hold to the Deep Time Creation view, however, come to the text with a belief that the scientific claim of Deep Time is absolute and therefore the text has to be interpreted to fit that claim. In this, they come to the text in the same way the first two positions do. Now, granted, the Deep Time Creationists that I know (and love) hold to a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Fall, etc. But everything in the text where a historical reading would be incompatible with the view of Deep Time is then reinterpreted to fit that timeline. The “evening and morning”, for example, are not a literal evening and morning, but millions or billions of years. The order of creation is not literal, but more symbolic or metaphorical, liquefied to match the evolutionary timeline. If you look at the timeline laid out by Hugh Ross, the most prominent Deep Time Creationist author, the creative acts of God are approximately every 20 million years and there is a different order than the text presents. The two events in Genesis that come in most conflict with Deep Time are the creation of the stars and the Noahic Flood. Therefore, the flood has to be interpreted as either a local flood or symbolic of God’s judgment and the stars, planets and elements came about not by God speaking them into existence, but after billions of years of cosmic evolution.

These interpretations are not driven by the text, but rather by the belief that the scientific claims are absolute regarding Deep Time. The text is therefore secondary to that claim and must be interpreted in such a way as to match it. I can guarantee that if science posited Near Time, no one would be arguing that the text demands millions and billions of years. The contrast here with the Historical Creation position is not insignificant and I do not believe it was a “false dichotomy”.

Now, I understand their frustration and can even sympathize with the argument that we didn’t take the time to deal with the differences between these various positions. That may be a valid complaint. However, the film was not intended to be a tutorial on the four positions. Its purpose was to give evidence for the position that holds to the historicity of Genesis and therefore to show the scientific support for a Near Time perspective of the universe and life and the historical reading of the text. And, in all fairness, we were so pressed with time constraints that we not only had to cut the time down for the scientists and the evidence that eventually made the film, but we had to leave out incredible interviews such as Dr. Larry Vardimer on the ice age as we stood beneath the glaciers of Mt. Shukstan or Dr. Stuart Burgess filmed in the swamp at Reelfoot Lake or Dr. Joe DeWeese in the cancer research lab at Lipscomb University.

The purpose of the film was to deal with the historicity of Genesis and over and over again we made the point that the issue was “time”… “deep time” versus “near time”, for this was, in essence, the basis for a very different view of history. It would have been impossible for anyone to miss this point. Therefore, the line of dichotomy in the film was drawn between positions three and four. Again, it is not surprising that we have been criticized by Deep Time Creationists for lumping them in with those in position one and two. But I am convinced that no matter what “contrast” we had used, no matter where we had drawn the line of dichotomy, there would have been complaints by the Deep Time Creationists because of who they had been “lumped” with. They clearly don’t want to be lumped with evolutionists and they clearly don’t want to be lumped with “young-earthers”. :) I understand that completely. But they do share the “deep time” and evolutionary timeline of the first two positions and therefore they are forced to interpret Genesis in such a way that is incompatible with its historical narrative. My Deep Time friends don’t like that statement, but it is true. The flood isn’t really global, but local in order to preserve the deep time in the rocks. The “days” aren’t really days and the order of the created events are rearranged to match the evolutionary timeline.

When God called forth Israel as a nation, He gave them the 7-day week as a structure for their life, to work six days, as He had done, and then rest on the 7th. These are the words of God spoken to Moses:

So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed. Exodus 31:16-17

It is hard for me to even imagine how this could be any clearer. I cannot imagine the creation of God spanning billions of years and then have Him so clearly state that He created it all in six days and in a particular order if He really didn’t do that. I cannot imagine that the creation involved millions of years of death with creatures of great violence tearing each other apart, most becoming extinct, before Adam comes on the scene. This is far from the historical narrative. And it doesn’t match what I understand God will do in the future when the lion will lie down with the lamb.

This is why there is a historical dichotomy line that runs between the Historic Creationist position and the other three positions. And it is this dichotomy that was being addressed in the film. It isn’t a false dichotomy. There is a great “contrast” between the historical narrative laid down in Genesis and the histories of the other three views.

This line of course, merely divides the positions we hold and it should not be used as a line to divide us as followers of Christ. I want to again express my deepest respect and admiration for my Deep Time Creationist friends and organizations like the Discovery Institute who have been invaluable in the cause for Intelligent Design. We are all enriched by that work. Though we have different positions, it is important that we show the world that we are united in Christ.

It should be clear, however, that in all of this, the weight of the claims of science is significant. It causes many to believe it has the correct interpretation of the evidence and should therefore be held as primary truth and the Scripture secondary. Next time, we will examine the current role and philosophy of science and how it impacts each of these positions.

Comments

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  • Steve Krigbaum

    Well Said Sir. This discussion is often missing or pushed aside when debating with those who hold to deep time creation and yet want to claim that they hold strictly to the bible. They fail to recognize that the text has become nearly meaningless and that they have eviscerated every Christian doctrine.
  • Sherri Hampton

    Excellent, as usual! Thanks for this—very practical for real-life conversations within Christianity!

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