The Fourth Conversation: An Evolutionary View of Creation

In this section, we’ll discuss the evidence for an evolutionary creation. The most important question to deal with right up front is this: “Does this mean we are elevating science (the word of man) above the Bible (the word of God)?”  

“No, it does not” is obviously the answer. The Bible is the word of God, written so that man might understand its spiritual lessons and how to develop a meaningful relationship with God.  It was not written to be a scientifically accurate text book, and if we insist on interpreting certain texts that way, we risk giving our intentions for the text primacy over God’s.

To illustrate this point, below are some examples of what faithful people in the Bible believed, but which we now know are not scientifically accurate perspectives. However, when considered in context these “errors” don’t diminish the authenticity or authority of God’s word from a theological perspective.

The Earth does not move

In 1543, Copernicus published his work called On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. His ideas alarmed both Catholics and Protestants alike because up until this point the geocentric view had been the accepted explanation for the cosmos. After all, the scripture clearly stated that the “world is established on foundations and shall never be moved” (1 Chronicles 16:30; 1 Samuel 2:8; Psalms 93:1 & 104:5). And if the Earth was fixed, then the logical conclusion is that it must have been the sun that moved. Remember that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still (Joshua 10:12-14), and references such as Psalm 19:4-6 and Ecclesiastes 1:5 describe the sun as being in motion.

It makes perfect sense for God to have spoken with the faithful using concepts they would have understood. For this reason, the Bible often uses what is called phenomenological language, which is language and terms based on what people would have seen or felt. Nowadays, we still talk of the sun rising but we know that the sun only appears to rise because of the rotation of the earth. For the same reason, saying “the sun rises” does not commit the Bible to a geocentric view of the cosmos. We know this now, but it was a fairly contentious matter for Copernicus’ day.

The solid dome

Another ancient view that God ‘let through to the keeper’ (to use a modern colloquialism) was the belief that the sky was a solid dome.  In Job 37:18 Elihu asks Job, “Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?”

The ancient Hebrews imagined the world as flat and round, covered by the great solid dome of the expanse, which was held up by mountain pillars (See Job 26:11 & 37:18). The view that the sky was a solid dome separating the primeval waters was common in the ancient Near Eastern cosmology shared by the biblical writers.⁠1 They also believed that there was water above the firmament as well as under the earth, these waters having been divided by God at creation (Genesis 1:6–7; Psalms 24:2 & 148:4). The sun, moon, and stars moved across or were fixed in the firmament.⁠2

The Hebrew term raqia suggests a thin sheet of beaten metal. (Compare how the word translated today as “expanse” in Genesis 1:6 is translated in Exodus 39:3; Numbers 17:3; Jeremiah 10:9; also Job 37:18).⁠3 Both the etymology and use of the noun and its associated verb suggest a metal plate or dome, which is consistent with its use in Job 37:18. It’s not clear when this idea of a solid dome was reconsidered, but its idiomatic value remained part of the language for some time, as can be seen in verses that describe the sky in a time of drought being “like iron” (Leviticus 26:19) or “like bronze” (Deuteronomy 28:23).⁠4

We also have evidence from non-Biblical sources that the ancient Israelites believed in some form of a structure separating the waters.  The Greek Apocalypse of Baruch is a Jewish pseudepigraphic text thought to have been written between First to Third Century AD. Based on the visions of Baruch, it describes the state of Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar and discusses how Judaism can survive when the temple is no longer in existence. Baruch argues that the Temple has been preserved in heaven and is presented as fully functional and attended by angels. During the vision, an angel takes Baruch on a journey through various heavens. That’s the background; now consider this quote:

“And he took me and led me where the firmament has been set fast, and where there was a river which no one can cross, nor any strange breeze of all those which God created. And he took me and led me to the first heaven, and showed me a door of great size. And he said to me, Let us enter through it, and we entered as though borne on wings, a distance of about thirty days’ journey” (3 Baruch 2:1-2).⁠5

Baruch describes the firmament as being set fast, and having a door set into it through which they entered into the first heaven. Thus, this view was a common perspective and on that was not limited to a quirk of Biblical authorship.

Josephus also commented on creation and his Antiquities of the Jews. He wrote:

“After this, on the second day, he placed the heaven over the whole world, and separated it from the other parts; and he determined it should stand by itself. He also placed a crystalline [firmament] round it, and put it together in a manner agreeable to the earth, and fitted it for giving moisture and rain, and for affording the advantage of dews”.⁠6

It seems this view wasn’t limited to just the ancient minds. Tyndale and Luther, both respected translators, opted for the solid firmament just as science was starting to demonstrate otherwise with the invention of the telescope.  Apparently, Luther didn’t have much time for these new fashioned ideas that contradicted Scripture:

“Indeed, it is more likely that the bodies of the stars, like that of the sun, are round, and that they are fastened to the firmament like globes of fire, to shed light at night, each according to its endowment and its creation…we must believe them and admit our lack of knowledge rather than either wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding.”⁠7 

In the context of this discussion, the main concept to note is that the purpose of this raqia/firmament/expanse was to separate ‘the waters’ into ‘waters above’ and ‘waters below’.  This is why the expanse was considered to be a ‘dome’ that separated the waters.

The heart

In ancient times, very little was known about the heart. There was an understanding that its beating coincided with life, and its cessation meant death, and so because the heart was associated with life it became associated with concepts like personality and the intellect, memory, desires, and so on.⁠8  In the scriptures the heart is anything but a blood pump, and as the Hebrews thought in terms of subjective experience rather than objective, scientific observation, the heart came to represent the whole being with all its physical, intellectual and psychological attributes.  Character, personality, will, mind, etc. are all modern terms which reflect something of the meaning of ‘heart’ in its biblical usage.⁠9

Morally, the heart can be gentle, lowly (Matthew 11:29), faithful (Nehemiah 9:8), and upright (Psalm 97:11). But it can also be hardened (Ezekiel 11:19) and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Nothing defiles a man but his own heart (Mark 7:18, 19).⁠10 Both in the Old and New Testaments it is the seat of wisdom (1 Kings 3:12), and of thought and reflection (e.g. Jeremiah 24:7, Luke 2:19). The heart’s function as the source of thought and reflection highlights its intellectual capacities (Isaiah 6:10; Mark 7:21-23). The heart understands (Deuteronomy 8:5), and discerns good and evil (1 Kings 2:44).⁠11

We know the heart as a vital bodily organ; however, all modern assumptions concerning circulation of the blood, the intellectual and directive functions of brain and nervous system, must be set aside when considering Scripture’s remarkably consistent physiological language. “Heart” (Hebrew léb; Greek kardia) occurs approximately 1000 times, often disguised in translation, and the range of meaning is immense.⁠12

The activities of demons

In verses such as Isaiah 45:7, Israel appears confident in the sovereignty of God, believing that he was in complete control. However, in the wider ancient world it was believed that there were spiritual beings existing alongside the known gods. Initially they weren’t necessarily thought of as evil, but during the Second Temple period the notion grew among the Jews that these beings were somehow aligned with forces of darkness, probably due to Persian influences. They began to speculate on the origin of demons, and the belief developed that “evil” spiritual beings were more independent of God than those who performed positive functions for him. The Essenes at Qumran believed that everyone was ruled either by the Prince of Light or the Angel of Darkness whom God had created, although these weren’t necessarily opposing forces, as it was, after all, God who created both these spirits and under which humans lived.⁠13

The Two Spirits Treatise in the Qumran scrolls (1QS 3:13–4:26) describes how God “created humankind to govern the world, and has appointed for them two spirits”. These spirits are essentially the Prince of Light and the Angel of Darkness. In other Qumran texts the names of these two angels appear: Michael, the archangel of Israel, who is also called Melchizedek (“king of righteousness,” 11QMelch), and his counterpart Belial (“king of wickedness,” 4Q280–82).⁠14 Over time, the belief developed that these evil spirits or demons, were doing battle with God and his allies, and they had a leader that initially was known by several titles, though the most common designation was “Satan” (adversary) with the Greek title diabolos, “the devil,” being used as a synonym.⁠15

These ideas developed further to suggest that demons could invade human bodies and cause mental illnesses, diseases, and issues like deafness or blindness (e.g., Matthew 9:32; Mark 9:5; Luke 6:18; 9:42; 11:14). This ideology is clearly reflected in the Gospels with Jesus “driving out demons” (e.g., Matthew 8:28–34; Mark 5:1–20; Luke 8:26–39), and later Jesus’s disciples are given authority to exorcise demons (Matthew 10:1; Mark 3:14–15).⁠16

It’s worth noting that almost all references to demons occur in the gospels. There are relatively few references to demons or evil spirits in the remainder of the New Testament, although Paul continues to use the analogy – for example in 1 Timothy 4:1.

So…

What should we make of these? The scriptures ‘clearly state’ that the earth was fixed and the sun moved, and support the notion of a solid firmament. Meanwhile the heart’s physiology is misrepresented, and Jesus openly went along with the “doctrine to be rejected” about devils and demons.

The ancients certainly believed these things. Those in subsequent ages believed this is what the Bible was ‘clearly saying’, and yet we know today these are not so.  It’s also worth pointing out (in case you haven’t noticed it already) that God never corrected their erroneous views.  Why? As D. Clement noted in 1884, “The Bible does not speak in the literal and strictly scientific language of the nineteenth century, but in the language of the day in which it was written”.⁠17

Often, our conversations about Genesis can get side-tracked by what should be read literally, allegorically, figuratively, etc. Certainly, much effort has gone into trying to reconcile Genesis 1 and its description of creation occurring in six 24-hour days with what is known about the age of the earth; and references such as Exodus 31:17 seem consistent with six literal days. Yet the evidence from the previous chapter showed that God used concepts as people understood them at the time to discuss and establish spiritual principles, not scientific ones. Therefore, it’s not necessarily as straight forward as labelling some of these as ‘figurative’, because the way they are described is the way those concepts were understood and discussed by the original audience. Ensuring creation was understood in a scientifically accurate manner was not God’s priority compared to spiritual matters.

This shows that we don’t have to tie ourselves in knots trying to defend an overly literal view of Genesis 1 and 2; and that’s a good thing, because there is simply no way to read Genesis 1 in a completely literal manner without inserting assumptions into the text to explain away the challenges.

For example, explaining the creation of ‘the lights’ in Genesis 1 requires no small amount of mental gymnastics.  The sun isn’t created until day four, whereas “light” and “dark”, and day and night are created on day one. Unlike the ancient audience, we know the moon is not actually a light, but that it merely reflects light; and we know the sun shines constantly, and that day and night is merely the earth’s rotation. Therefore, the light and dark, day and night of days one, two and three don’t make sense (if read literally). Placing the lights in the firmament (which has water above it, so the water is above the stars) is at best an inaccurate perception of an earthly viewer. Thus, although there are various attempts at explaining this (and the spiritual significance), the fact remains that reading Genesis 1 as a literal description of the creation of the sun and the moon simply doesn’t make sense.

If this is the case then, where should we draw the line between what should be interpreted as literal events in the Bible, and the things that were perhaps more allegorical and less literal?  Why would we not observe God’s physical creation to answer this question? That’s what Section Three is about.

The point is this: Acknowledging that the Biblical descriptions of these concepts are not scientifically accurate does not imply that we value science more highly than scripture. It simply means our understanding of the natural world has given us a deeper insight into what God actually created, as opposed to how people at a given point in time understood his creation.

In Section Three we’ll look at scriptural matters in more detail, but for now let’s turn our attention to what is undoubtedly one of the more controversial impacts of an evolutionary view of creation – the origins of man.

Adam and Eve and … ?

The proposition put forward in this book is that creation has been a single, continuous, evolutionary one.

If this is true, then it follows that there must have been other humans contemporary with Adam and Eve. We’ll consider the evidence for this shortly, but first it’s worth pointing out that the evidence is not as inconsistent with Genesis as some might argue, because there are at least three biblical hints that there were other human beings in existence at the time of Adam and Eve.

1. Cain – Driven Out and Afraid: In Genesis 4:14-15 Cain laments because he is to be driven away, and is afraid he would be killed. Who would Cain be afraid of if the only other people on earth are his parents, and perhaps younger siblings that have yet to be born? Genesis 4:25 notes that Seth was “another offspring instead of Abel”. The quotation “God has appointed for me another child” is a happy cry of considerable emotion. The Hebrew is literally “God has given me another seed”⁠18, and the Hebrew name sheth derives from a verb that means “to put,” “to place,”, or “to set,” perhaps subtly implying that the birth of Seth compensates for the loss of Abel.⁠19 This language wouldn’t make sense if Eve had produced other children between Cain, Abel, and Seth.

Adam was 130 years old (Genesis 5:3) when Seth was born, and it was only after Seth that Adam had other sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). Marking Cain so that no-one would kill him hardly sounds necessary if it was only his younger siblings. They would know who he was, and thus the mark is unnecessary. Furthermore, Cain was driven away as a punishment. So, if he was afraid of other wandering people, are we to assume his siblings would have been driven out as well? The thoughts in these verses only make sense if there were other people on the earth.

2. The Wives of Cain and Seth: The second line of biblical evidence concerns Cain and Seth finding wives for themselves (Genesis 3:26 & 4:17). Who were their wives? We have been taught to simply assume these were their sisters, but this presents a scenario that is morally unacceptable.

Ron Cowie makes a sound point when he says, “God’s moral compass does not change”.⁠20 Leviticus is quite clear that relations with one’s sister (not to mention other close relatives) are depraved and expressly forbidden. Leviticus 18:6-18 cites sixteen prohibited intrafamily sexual involvements, including those between a brother and a sister.⁠21 These relationships are considered disgraceful enough that an offender should be cut-off from his people (Leviticus 20:17) and considered cursed (Deuteronomy 27:22).

To imply Cain and Seth took their sisters not only inserts a concept into the text that is not there (the scriptures do NOT say they took their sisters), but it also requires God’s moral compass to do a 180-degree turn-around. This turn-around is especially unlikely given the language of Leviticus 18:2-3 in which God expressly states that Israel is to walk in his statutes, and that such behaviour characterised the morally corrupt practices of the Canaanites (who had defiled the land so badly they were to be removed from it).

The occasions in which the Bible records incestuous acts show them to be wrong. For example, Lot’s daughters sleep with their drunken father and both become pregnant (Genesis 19:30-38); and, in 2 Samuel 13:1-22, the deceitful Amnon violates his sister Tamar. Note it was against her wishes because such a “shameful and outrageous thing should not have been done in Israel” (1 Samuel 13:13).

These examples show that acts of incest were contrary – not only to God’s character – but to logic itself. It makes no sense that God would have planned for humans to reproduce using a method that is so offensive to him.

3. People Began to Worship God: After Adam and Eve’s first grandchild was born, people (or ‘men’ depending on your version) “began to worship the LORD” (Genesis 4:26).  If the only human beings were Adam and Eve, their children and grandchildren, it makes no sense to say that “people BEGAN to worship the LORD”. Abel had previously been faithful, and it appears that Adam and Eve remained faithful after they left Eden (see Genesis 4:25). So at least some of the family were already worshipping God. The text only makes sense if there are other people who were influenced to begin worshipping God.

Sole progenitors?

These early chapters of Genesis offer compelling evidence of a wider human population co-existing with Adam and Eve.  This is a critically important point to acknowledge because one of the main sources of angst in the creation debate is the thought that the Genesis narrative describes Adam and Eve as the sole progenitors of the entire human race. This is what most of us have grown up believing, but the references that we have looked at above show the text in Genesis does not force us into this interpretation. In fact, no verse in Scripture insists on this view, but we’ll explore this further in Section Three.

So, if Adam and Eve were not the sole progenitors, then where did the other people come from? Did God create numerous people alongside Adam, or did these other people have more distant origins? The lines of evidence from fields such as archaeology, genomics, and genetics provide thought-provoking answers to this question.

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1 Major Contributors and Editors, “Firmament,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

2 Joel W. Rosenberg, “Sky,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 970.

3 Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 309.

4 E. C. Lucas, “Cosmology,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 138.

5 Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 533–534.

6 Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).

7 Janoslaw Pelikan, Luther’s Works. Vol. 1. Lectures on Genesis, ed. (Concordia Pub. House, St. Louis, Missouri, 1958) pp. 30, 42, 43

8 Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 368.

9 B. O. Banwell, “Heart,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 456.

10 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 939.

11 Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 377.

12 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 938.

13 G. H. Twelftree, “Demon, Devil, Satan,” ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 163–164.

14 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 780.

15 James M. Efird and Mark Allan Powell, “Demon,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 192.

16 James M. Efird and Mark Allan Powell, “Demon,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 192–193.

17 D Clement, (The Christadelphian, 1884) 21:176

18 William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 128.

19 John D. Barry, Douglas Mangum, et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Ge 4:25.

20 Ron Cowie, Exhortation on 2 Tim 3, (Hyde Park Meeting, 2014) http://goo.gl/SgS21i

21 L. N. Ferguson, “Incest,” ed. David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling (Baker reference library; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 613.