Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Answers in Genesis - Reasoning with atheists (part 2)

When I was just starting out as a Methodist Minister my superintendent asked me to lead an Alpha Course. This was not an easy task as the person in whose home this was taking place was a vocal sceptic. It was also difficult because the other person helping with the course was a Christian whose opinions on Genesis differed than mine.

I believe that Genesis is a part of God’s Word. Therefore it is trustworthy and true. However, I am not convinced that the opening chapters need to be read as a historical description of six literal days of creation. My friend in the Alpha course was very certain that the opening chapter of Genesis did recount 144 hours of activity. What resulted was that those on the course had to witness the two of us debating something that is not at the core of the gospel.

My current position on the beginning of Genesis is somewhat that of an agnostic. Perhaps God did create over a short period on time in recent history, although the general scientific opinion would disagree; or maybe God created over a long period of time a very long time ago in history.

Two things I would say to Christians. Firstly, don’t assume that just because someone believes in six-day creationism means that they are not intellectually credible. Scientist and Methodist minster David Wilkinson (while not a six-day creationist) explains that there is a tendency amongst scientists and theologians to ascribe young earth creationism to a small group of fundamentalists who refuse to open their minds. He points out that this is not the case, given that the American Institute for Creation Research and the smaller British Creation Resources Trust have a number of powerful scientists among their numbers. Secondly, it should not be assumed that those who do not ascribe to six-day creationism have no respect for the Bible—conservative evangelicals like Tim Keller and J. I. Packer believe that God’s creation involved certain processes of evolution.
While believing that there are symbolic elements in the accounts found in the early chapters of Genesis, I do think that there was a historic Adam and Eve. The reason for this is because of the Apostle Paul’s argument in Romans. Such an opinion does not need to ne incompatible with contemporary scientific theory. As John Stott highlights, ‘All human beings share the same anatomy, physiology and chemistry, and the same genes ... This homogeneity of the human species is best explained by positing our descent from a common ancestor.’ ‘Genetic evidence indicates’, writes Dr. Christopher Stringer of London's Natural History Museum, ‘that all living people are closely related and share a recent common ancestor.’

Genesis does teach the fact that there was a beginning—Aristotelian thought hypothesised an eternal cosmos. (Richard Dawkins is not too impressed with the fact that the Bible gets this right, given that there were only two options). Genesis also points to the fact that the cosmos is created with order—Whitehead's thesis states ‘that human beings become scientific because they expected law in nature; and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.’ Thirdly, Genesis gives a credible explanation for the nature of humankind—that we are both noble, being created ‘in the image of God’ and fallen, and so prone to doing what is evil.

1 comment:

Virtual Methodist said...

debates over the opening chapters of Genesis must be one of the most energy-sapping, counter-productive endeavours of modern Christianity... whether it be between Christians or with the so-called new atheists, who really aren't interested in authentic debate anyway... This week we're looking at "Creation" in our Cafe Church event, and as one skit puts it, debate between the theological and scientific understanding of the beginnings of the universe is like debating whether the cue ball in snooker is round or white!