A rewrite of a ramble on evolutionary biology. The first section is about the type of truth contained in Genesis, the second section is one possible reconciliation of evolution and Gnesis and the third section is a slightly rambling look at the spiritual realms.
Biblical Christianity and Evolutionary Biology
Of Truth and Symbols
Evolution and Genesis
Many Christians who take a strict literal interpretation of the bible are unable to accept the scientific principles of evolution and even to a certain other disciplines like geology and cosmology. They believe the bible, and here we particularly mean the early chapters of Genesis, is a historical record of how God chose to bring the universe into being and about the fall of mankind. This piece of writing is not initially about that argument (and argument it usually becomes....). This piece is about the spiritual value of those chapters of Genesis.
One of the difficulties is that a strict literal interpretation of the bible becomes a stumbling block to non-Christians. Unable to accept what they see as not just outlandish but demonstrably wrong they dismiss Christianity as legend and myth and irrelevant to them. The central fact of Christianity is Christ, his death and ressurection. This is a belief which, in this scientific age, is certainly outlandish - but not demonstrably wrong. In fact there is much historical evidence that would point to the truth of the gospels. The danger is that in arguing over whether Genesis and the 'stories' of the garden of eden are 'true' or not we can lose sight of the spiritual message contained within them.
Take for example the fall of Adam. The eating of the forbidden fruit was a symbolic act that cut Adam off from his creator. What does it mean to say that it was symbolic ? It means that the significance of the act extended beyond the physical appearance of what took place. Just like the leaders of two warring nations signing a peace treaty - the actual physical act is minor, yet it has very real consequences that reach out beyond the time and place of the event. In the case of a peace treaty men put down their guns, fighters cease resistance, planes stop dropping bombs and so on. Why ? Because two men put ink onto paper - surely not, but because of the facts that this act symbolised. So, in the case of Adam, eating the 'forbidden fruit' was more than Adam quenching a minor hunger but is symbolic of him (and all mankind through him) reaching out for knowledge away from his creator. Having accepted this fact it is the next step that is interesting. For us the significance of the acts lies not in what happened, for whatever people may say the bible is not a history text book but a spiritual book, but in the symbolic meaning of those acts. So let us look at the two possible view points and see what spiritual value they derive from the scripture.
The first man is honest and good-hearted and believes the bible to be fully and literally true - both as a spiritual guide and as Gods testimony to man of his physical origins; believing that God formed Adam from the dust, formed Eve from his rib and the 'forbidden fruit' was plucked from a real tree in a real garden. But knowing God is no mere historian but left us this record as a guide for us to live from he tries to derive meaning from the story. He sees that man eats from the tree of knowledge but that God intended us to eat from the tree of life. He also learns the nature of the rebellion against what is right that afflicts all mankind and is the cause of every kind of suffering.
Now another man reads the same story and sees it as an allegory. A poetic tale whose value is not in the events it describes but in the symbolism within those events. He has experienced the power of God in his own life and utterly believes that meaning to be real and truth. Upon examining these scriptures what understanding does he come to ? He sees the eating of the 'fruit of the tree of knowledge' as symbolic of man's conscious decision to turn against God.... and so on.....
These two men have very different opinions - and you could easily envisage a religious argument with them almost coming to blows over those opinions. And yet the funny thing is that because they are both looking for the symbolic significance of those events they are both brought to the same truth.
In fact there are two other biblical parallels where drawing symbolic meaning is uncontroversial - the parables of Jesus and the book of revelation. Christians who are used to drawing the spiritual truth from certain parts of the bible baulk at applying it to other parts - even though the method is essentially the same.
One argument that could be levelled against this line of reasoning is that it could be possible to explain away as 'symbolic' any portion of the gospel that we had difficulty. In particular we could see the resurrection of Christ as 'symbolic' of salvation and reduce the whole of Christianity to a nice philosophy or allegory of man's search for inner freedom. To that I would point people to St Paul in 1 corinthians 15. There he explains that our hope and belief rests not in the theory of Christianity but in the physical resurrection of Christ. Sure, Gods power works through the symbolic power of this act - Christ died once, for all - but their must be an act for it to carry this symbolic power. 'else our hope is in vain and we of all people are to be pitied most'. For symbols are real - just because the effects of that signature on that peace treaty have nothing to do with pen and paper doesn't make it irrelevant - without it the war carries on.
Symbols carry the power of the invisible. We live in a visible, physical world - yet it is the unseen that shapes our reality and gives the physical meaning. All our memories and feelings for people are invisible (non-physical) and yet they shape the things we do. Even money, something most people see as something very tangible, is only symbolic authority. This is why bank notes carry the teeasurers signature on them - as a sign of their value. Every government that has tried to get out of economic trouble by printing more money has learned that its value is not absolute.....
So we see that the truth of Christianity in the early part of the bible rests not in the historical acts but in the symbolic meaning of those acts. Therefore that truth stands (or falls) irrespective of the historical events. The truth of Christianity is to be weighed in measuring that significance and not by examining the events themself. Therefore the only fallacy is the fallacy of dogma. The events described in Genesis may well be true, an omnipotent, omniscient God is certainly capable of that and more besides; but to insist on them being accepted as history before being able to appreciate spiritual truth is simply incorrect.
As a side issue I have included here a version of events that reconciles the 'story' (or timetable) of genesis with the 'theory of evolution'. It is only one possible interpretation and I am not saying it iis wholly correct - but I include it to show that certain difficulties can be overcome :
This version revolves around the timing of `the fall`. If evolution is true then creatures have developed adapted to kill and feed off each other. A traditional reading of genesis says that creatures must have been herbivores before the fall; at which point death and destruction entered.
If that is the case (this is an alternative version of the `gap theory` that theologians may be familiar with) why was Adam placed in a garden - a secluded paradise ? Why not merely roam the earth ?
Created life includes the angelic realms and hierarchies - and the fall of the angels (Lucifer and his cohorts) occurred prior to the fall of man. In this case creation itself was already fallen prior to the fall of man. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God they were thrown out of the garden - implying that outside the garden was already a worse place to be !!
Some pundits hold that the use of the word 'void' in the first few verses of genesis - as in 'the earth was void and formless' - indicates this initial chaos and fallen state. I don't really hold with that reading - just look at my website title to get some sense of the meaning I might ascribe to 'void' ! I see it as more meaning unformed and potential I guess, but the position that creation had already fallen (carried this imperfection) before the arrival of man is not necessarily an unorthodox Christian view. The earth as it grew and developed already could have carried that curse of sin and death that we see all around us (and within the pre-human fossil record). The spiritual legitimacy of that corruption was sealed in the fall of man, in Eden. God had placed rulership of his creation in the hands of man - but that rule was given over to Satan when he caused man to turn away from God. This was only to be returned to redeemed man in the sacrificial death of Jesus - the 'New Adam'. Scripture heralds him as the 'lamb slain before the foundation of the earth'. The symbol of the lamb speaks of meekness and innocence and also the sacrificial lamb that fulfilled the Old Testament law for the forgiving of sins. That he is described as ' slain before the foundation of the earth' hints that this pattern of fall and redemption was somehow within Gods plan.
This still begs the question of how did a perfect God create or allow an imperfect world ? I know of no complete answer to this question - the only vaguely satisfactory one I know kind of leaves the question open. Here it goes anyway - 'sin must have been within the sovereign will of God', which is kind of obvious but puts the mystery firmly back within Gods province. From touching Gods nature - all I can say is that Gods two best qualities are his faithfulness and his justice. He never breaks his promises/he stays totally true to us and the oppressed will be avenged, the wrongs will be righted...... Hmmmmm...... Another difficult lesson to learn is that sometimes we can't have all the answers.
It is worth noting that creation includes the `spiritual realms` which includes the angelic hosts. The physical and spiritual realms are not `seperate` but part of a wider reality. That we don`t perceive all of reality is an obvious statement and the spiritual reality is part of what we are not normally aware of.
Much of the depths of our own soul are hidden from us - fortunate is the man who truly understands himself. My contention is that even according to the theory of evolution our psyche is formed by the world around us. So what is present in the human psyche has evolved in response to the outside world - so they are not detached and seperate things but part of one larger whole.
Theeefore an examination of human psyche ought to tell us much about the ordering of the 'outside world' (the outer landscape formed the inner landscape - so they must resemble each other - the inner landscape is after all *nothing* more than the functioning of the outer landscape, a classic scientist must believe that absolutely - even the human consciousness can be nothing more than the firing of neurons etc). Therefore any elements of human psyche must be caused by relationship to the outer world. (Jung identified common elements independent of race, place of birth etc that spanned aeons - he looked at myths and dreams of many races and civilizations). If there are elements of the human psyche common to many - and these have been formed by relationship with the universe then to talk of the universe containing spiritual entities (angelic and demonic) is no longer fantastical - particularly if they move within the life of God who is the ultimate life of all life. The psychological life, the spiritual life, is the deeper workings of the human soul - the hidden motives, the basic desires etc. But as soon as you acknowledge that these forces have corollorary in the outside world you admit them an objective existence. As soon as you acknowledge a commonality of all life - a common living source of our life you acknowledge the reality of God.
Michael Foord - April 2003