by guest blogger Andrew Marfleet. Dr. Marfleet was Chair of ACT from 2001 to 2007 posted Tuesday 4th February 2014
I share Gill Robins’ disquiet over eminent scientists who advocate banning the teaching of belief systems they don’t agree with, but I wonder if Christians who promote the teaching of creationism should stop and think. Have we contributed to an image of Christianity that’s all too easy to reject, resulting in the attitudes shown in the TES straw poll that Gill refers to?
I’m not a scientist, though I’m aware of the mounting evidence for scientific evolution, based more on DNA than on the fossil record these days. The subject I studied and taught throughout my teaching career was English Literature. I learned how to study texts, not least the Bible. Appropriate engagement with a text means asking what sort of text it is. The Bible offers a wide range of genres, the majority being narrative; stories are a powerful way of understanding life, but to be effective, they don’t need to be true. Jesus’ parables are an obvious example. The account of the nativity in Revelation 12 does not feature in many school productions! History and biography feature strongly in the Bible, but it offers us ‘truth’ in a variety of ways.
As a matter of integrity, I try to look at Biblical texts for what they are without reading my own ideas into them. Genesis poses a challenge. Not because it contradicts the science I was taught, but because it offers different stories about the origins of the world and of human life. Chapter 2 talks of God creating the heavens and earth in a different order than in Chapter 1. It’s clearly a different story, but included in Genesis by an inspired writer who saw the value of the different accounts. There’s no problem unless you insist that both are literal accounts, true in a historical and scientific sense.
Christians of earlier generations, I’ve discovered, didn’t insist on literal readings of the text. Origen, Augustine, Calvin and most pre-Enlightenment theologians weren’t constrained in this way. Creationism, as we now know it, only emerged about 100 years ago. It’s actually a modernist construct, an attempt to impose a scientific/historical reading onto the text. Its impetus came largely from a movement in the 1920s in the USA.
Evangelical giants such as B.B. Warfield, early in the 20th Century, had no problem with Darwinism. Later Christian writers I’ve come to respect, such as C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer and Michael Green, also see no contradiction in accepting scientific evolution as a credible explanation of life on this planet alongside their strong faith in the Bible as God’s word. I was greatly helped to think through these issues in my younger days by a former Chair of ACT, Charles Martin. On his advice, I read authors who weren’t constrained by the American shackles. Those with academic credentials in both science and Biblical Studies, such as Ernest Lucas and Alister McGrath, have impressed me particularly. And if there’s one book I would recommend to all ACT members, it would be Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: do we have to choose? He, and others from the Faraday Institute, will help anyone seeking to apply their mind to issues of science and faith.
Denis Alexander makes the point at the end of his book that we have more important things to do than knocking the theory of evolution. I agree. God’s revelation of himself in nature and in his word ought not to be contradictory. Too much time, money and effort goes into fighting unnecessary battles in this area when our task is to proclaim the crucified and risen Lord.