November 24, 2017

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 2- Opening God’s Two Books

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes  Chapter 2- Opening God’s Two Books

By Denis O. Lamoureux

As Denis’ military tour of duty came to an end he was faced with several opportunities; one of which was the military would pay for his medical school for him to become a dentist.  A nice deal ending in a lucrative career.  But being the evangelical zealot he was at the time, he got down on his knees and heard God calling him to be a creation scientist so he could attack the “evilutionists” in secular colleges and universities and save the poor naïve college students from Satan’s lie.  He even tried to go to medical school which lasted for 3 days and he calls it his “Jonah experience”.  Spit up on dry ground, he reconciles himself to God’s will to preach to the heathen.

To “equip himself for battle”, Denis planned to get a PhD in both theology and biology.  So he first began his PhD studies in theology school.  And it was here that the props holding up his creation science began to be toppled.  As he says:

“Like all theology students, I discovered that interpreting the Bible is more complicated than what we learn in Sunday school.  Only weeks into my first term, one of the world’s greatest theologian stated in class that ‘the biblical creation accounts were obviously written in picture language’.  I knew that this professor was a marvelous Christian.  Many of his books were very helpful in my walk of faith.  I had even met people who came to the Lord through his writings.  But his claim that the creation accounts had ‘picture language’ rocked me.”

This assumption of concordism; that God has revealed scientific information in the Bible that concords with what we moderns now know is really the foundation of young earth creationism.  After all, God is the creator of the world and He is also the Author of the Bible.  Therefore, to expect harmony between the Book of God’s Words (the Bible) and the Book of God’s Works (nature) is a reasonable assumption.  Only a God who is powerful and transcends time could have given modern scientific facts to the ancient authors of Scripture.  In the Science and the Bible course I used to teach at my previous evangelical church this is the first assumption I challenged my students to think through; before I raised or discussed any issues of actual science.  I would ask the class, “What is the genre’ of Genesis 1-2 and how do you know that?”  The next question would be, “What is the science that is presented in Genesis 1-2; is it modern science or ancient science?”

The genre’ question is not as obvious, especially in English translations.  It is more obvious in the Hebrew; from my Science and the Bible post, Lesson 4 :

It is well known that in Hebrew thought the number seven symbolizes ‘wholeness’ as a characteristic of God’s perfection. A well-known example is the seven-candle lamp stand, or Menorah, which has long been a symbol of the Jewish faith and is the emblem of the modern State of Israel.  In Genesis 1, multiples of seven appear in extraordinary ways. For ancient readers, who were accustomed to taking notice of such things, these multiples of seven conveyed a powerful message. Seven was the divine number, the number of goodness and perfection. Its omnipresence in the opening chapter of the Bible makes an unmistakable point about the origin and nature of the universe itself. Consider the following:

  1. The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words. Instantly, the ancient reader’s attention is focused.
  2. The second sentence contains exactly fourteen words. A pattern is developing.
  3. The word ‘earth’—one half of the created sphere—appears in the chapter 21 times.
  4. The word ‘heaven’—the other half of the created sphere—also appears 21 times.
  5. ‘God’, the lead actor, is mentioned exactly 35 times (7 x 5)
  6. The refrain ‘and it was so’, which concludes each creative act, occurs exactly seven times.
  7. The summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ also occurs seven times.
  8. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the whole account is structured around seven scenes or seven days of the week.

The artistry of the chapter is stunning and, to ancient readers, unmistakable. It casts the creation as a work of art, sharing in the perfection of God and deriving from him. My point is obvious: short of including a prescript for the benefit of modern readers the original author could hardly have made it clearer that his message is being conveyed through literary rather than prosaic means.”

There is also the well noted parallelism of the days; again indicating a literary structure rather than just a narrative account.

As to the question, “What is the science that is presented in Genesis 1-2; is it modern science or ancient science”, Denis notes that theology school forced him to rethink how God inspired the Bible.  It became evident to him that scientific concordism was NOT a feature of the Bible; rather there was an ancient understanding of the physical world.  The ancient Hebrews did not have some special “divine” insight on the cosmology of the universe; rather they had the same understanding of all ancient peoples at the time.  And this understanding can be clearly seen in the Genesis passages:

  1. The earth is the center of the universe. That is why it can be created before the sun and the stars.
  2. Day and night are created before the sun is created.
  3. The sky is a “firmament” (Hebrew raquia- a beaten copper pot) a solid dome.
  4. There is an ocean above the firmament and an ocean below the earth.
  5. The earth rests on pillars.
  6. The sun and the moon are set or hung in the firmament/sky/heavens.
  7. The moon gives its own light.
  8. The stars are lesser lights.

That this was the viewpoint of ancient peoples can be seen from the image in Luther’s German translation of the Bible that portrays an earth with a firmament and with waters above reflecting the imagery found in the text.

This realization that God accommodated the ancient viewpoint of the scripture writers in their description of creation was the evidence within the Bible itself that began to dismantle Denis’ dream of becoming a creation scientist.  When Denis realized that God allowed the inspired writers to use their ancient scientific ideas about origins to reveal the foundational message of faith that He alone was the Creator of the world; it relieved him of the necessity to choose between believing “God’s Word” from “man’s word”.  Once the false guilt and pressure of the false dichotomy that you were being faithless to God if you didn’t believe 6-day creationism was lifted from him; Denis was free to judge the science of evolution on its own merits.

Which is what Denis did next as he began his PhD in biology.  His studies in theology opened his mind to what the Bible really is, but he was not quite ready to abandon his plan to become a creation scientist.  He says:

I realized the Bible is not a book of science, but my original “Grand Plan” to destroy the theory of evolution was still alive and well.  I moved on to obtain a PhD in biology.  Since I was a dentist, I entered a university program to study the so-called “best evidence” for evolution- the evolution of teeth and jaws.  My plan was to collect scientific facts that disproved evolution, and once I graduated as a scientist, I would write a devastating book against Satan’s lie that life had evolved.

Well you can probably figure out what happened.  My soul was shaken to the core for a second time.  I began to see fossil evidence that indicated evolution was true… For years in Sunday school and at creationist events, I had been taught that there were no transitional fossils… During my scientific training, I saw, and even held in my hands a number of transitional fossils.  When I first discovered that these fossils existed, it was not at all comfortable.  I tried my best to explain their existence through an anti-evolutionary view of origins.  But I could not deny this scientific evidence in the Book of God’s Works, and eventually I accepted evolution.

A discourse on transitional fossils could obviously take up several posts.  A helpful Wikipedia entry on “List of transitional fossils”  lists the following as transitional fossils:

1              Nautiloids to ammonoids

2              Cephalopods

3              Evolution of insects

4              Evolution of spiders

5              Invertebrates to fish

6              Chondrichthyes

7              Bony fish

8              Fish to tetrapods

9              Amphibians to amniotes

10           Turtles

11           From lizards to snakes

12           Lizards

13           Pterosaurs

14           Archosaurs to dinosaurs

15           Dinosauria

16           Dinosaurs to birds

17           Bird evolution

18           Synapsid (“mammal-like reptiles”) to mammals

19           Evolution of mammals

20           Early artiodactylans to whales

21           Evolution of sirenians

22           Evolution of pinnipeds

23           Evolution of the horse

24           Human evolution

You can click on each entry in the list for a brief description and explanation.

In the book, Denis talks about fish to amphibian and whale evolution, since both are well represented in the geologic record.  But as a dentist, the persuasiveness of the evidence for evolution of teeth and jaws in reptile to mammals made a huge impression on him.  From the book the following figures:

Denis also studied embryology and the “Embryology-Evolution Analogy” made a decisive impact on his thinking.  Psalm 139: 13-14 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…“ Every Christian understands this as a poetic picture of God creating each and every one of us through his ordained and sustained embryological mechanisms.   Nobody takes this “literally” as God coming out of heaven to miraculously attach an entire arm or leg to their developing body in the womb.  Every single one of us is here by virtue of a natural biologic process.  As Denis says:

Could it be that instead of coming out of heaven and miraculously placing each creature on earth, God “knit together” all living organisms through his ordained and sustained natural process of evolution?

Discovering the similarity between God’s creative action in embryology and evolution completely freed me from being afraid of evolution.  It became evident that science is the study of the Lord’s creation and all the natural mechanisms that he created, including the process of evolution.  Instead of being an enemy of Christianity, science is a gift from our Creator that declares his glory and reveals to us how He made the universe and life.

Denis wraps up this chapter by dealing with the supposed “calling” he received from God to become a creation scientist and attack evolutionists in universities.  He now believes that God “accommodated” his spiritual and intellectual level where he was at; trapped in either/or thinking.  He thinks that the Lord called him to get the education he did, not to attack evolution, but to attack atheistic interpretations of evolution and defend the belief that the world is his creation.

Well, maybe so.  The skeptical critic would say Denis is engaging in a little retroactive special pleading.  But how many of us were young and foolish once and yet God guided us to where we are now despite our foolishness?  There is no doubt that Denis Lamoureux is a major voice helping Christians get beyond the either/or thinking and false dichotomy of the so-called “evolution vs. creation” debate.

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    quoting Denis, this
    ” It became evident that science is the study of the Lord’s creation and all the natural mechanisms that He created, including the process of evolution. Instead of being an enemy of Christianity, science is a gift from our Creator that declares His glory and reveals to us how He made the universe and life.”

    in the pastoral letter Gaudium et Spes, is written this observation: “methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.

    The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”

    My own thought is that it IS possible to read the following verse and understand it in the light of what the disciplined study of science can help us to comprehend about Creation and the Creator:
    “7 “But now ask the animals, and let them teach you;
    And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
    8″Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
    And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
    9″Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this”
    (from Job, chapter 12)

    the complexity of even a single being, a single creature of God, is a testament in itself as is the mystery of ‘life’

  2. “Denis wraps up this chapter by dealing with the supposed “calling” he received from God…”
    Sounds like standard operating procedure. We actually discern a calling but suppose it fits our preconception. Proverbs 16:9 says it plainly: “A man’s heart devises his way: but the Lord directs his steps.”

  3. “We actually discern a calling but suppose it fits our preconception.” Spot on observation, Chris.

  4. But being the evangelical zealot he was at the time, he got down on his knees and heard God calling him to be a creation scientist so he could attack the “evilutionists” in secular colleges and universities and save the poor naïve college students from Satan’s lie.

    He would never have thought about this if it was just him and the Bible/God. This was put into him by the leaders and the machine.

    And that’s heartbreaking. He ended up well, but many don’t, and his life could have been spared so much pain and anguish. It’s not worth it. None of it is.

    • But just him and the Bible/God is no more a reality than the one where we are all kind to each other and no one lacks because we all share. That world has never been. It exists only as an ideal. We are left with the one where suffering, maltreatment and dysfunction exist. There is the beauty of grace when our heart remains open to it. He takes our sh%+ and grows trees out of it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      But being the evangelical zealot he was at the time, he got down on his knees and heard God calling him to be a creation scientist so he could attack the “evilutionists” in secular colleges and universities and save the poor naïve college students from Satan’s lie..

      Just another expendable Jihadi for the Cause.

  5. Ronald Avra says:

    This is very helpful. Thanks, Mike.

  6. Burro [Mule] says:

    This is going to be long, I’m afraid. Skip this unless you can commit to reading it all.

    I can never approach the topic of evolution/origins without my spider-sense tingling telling me that with all the discussion of genetic and molecular mechanisms there is something vital missing from the discussion. I start with the phenomenon of human language. Language is the only indicator we have of the existence of other minds, it is what bridges my interior world with your interior world.

    Now it is obvious to me that some kind interiority exists in the higher animals, especially among dogs, with whom I am most familiar, but probably also with apes and other primates, elephants, dolphins, horses, etc, with whom I am not so intimate. My great-grandfather the farmer would know better than I. I do not sense interiority in rodents, birds, reptiles,or insects, but a dreary sort of algorithmic existence, as if they obeyed a kind of chemical imperative, as if chemicals were using the forms of them to become mobile and extend their existence through reproduction.

    I don’t often mention this, but in my youth I dabbled with certain alkaloids that probably shouldn’t be dabbled with, or if at all, then only when guided by somebody who really knows what they’re doing. My unsupervised excursions into this territory led to a great deal of turmoil and chaos, and several times I almost lost my way back. Of all the things I saw there, there were one or two images stuck with me. One was of an flat, broad open grassland at sunset, with a storm brewing on the horizon. Huddled in the middle of the savanna was a small figure, a mother comforting her infant at her breast, her back against the storm, cooing at her baby.

    She saw me, and looked up. Her bright yellow eyes locked on mine, and we knew each other. She began speaking to her child in something that sounded to me like ancient Greek. Over the years I have meditated on that image as if it were a mantra or a favorite Scripture, and it appears to me that all of it; Plato, Aristotle, the Hellenistic mathematicians, Lucretius, Averroës, the Upanishads, Newton, Lavoisier, and Richard Feynman, was there in seminal form in my australopithecine Madonna and her child. But it wasn’t yet free. It was still bound. Little by little the freedom grew, and the sophia was freed from its chemical container. At first, I think, the interiority was projected onto the world; the storm, the wind, the leopard, the pestilence, but as the sophia wrestled loose the spirits were exorcised from their haunts and receded into stories. The World became disenchanted, but with the disenchantment came a terrible liberty coupled with a terrible loneliness. The banished spirits exploded in flame in the skies over wartime Japan, subject to us now, but terrifying us now in a different way.

    Needless to say, I loath positivism/reductionism in all of its manifestations; scientific, social, or theological. It engenders the “leaders and the machines” StuartB complains about.

    Thank you for indulging me. There is literally nobody I can talk to about this, and almost nobody writing about it. There is Owen Barfield, but he is too dependent on his juju-man Rudolf Steiner, whom I trust not at all. There are the scientific works of the Romantic naturalists like Goethe and Sir Humphrey Davies. Best of all, there is Pavel Florensky, a scientifically trained Orthodox theologian of the first degree, but every time I indulge myself in this line of inquiry, I feel like I did when I was a twenty-year old wandering in districts where I don’t belong. Maybe if I weren’t such a coward, I could have been a true academic and beaten a path into this matorreal.

    To quote Randy Newman, I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Stay tuned, Mule. Denis is going to make a case for teleology in evolution and he is going to make it forthright without equivocation. Should be interesting.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        Hunh. This should be good.

        Any teleology apparent from the evidence would seem to me to posit a somewhat blind and insensible Teleator who learned as he went along. I hope Denis isn;t going to reheat Teilhard de Chardin’s old chestnuts. I think he got it precisely backwards,

        • Mike the Geologist says:

          Mule, enlighten me: I thought Florensky was the Russian Teilhard, so to speak, but I know very little of Florensky and it has been ages since I’ve read Teilhard.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            I have read a lot of Florensky, but have nothing about him engaging evolution or attempting to synthesize Orthodoxy and Darwin. As far as I know, held both of them in his mind without experiencing a contradiction between them.

            I have read no de Chardin, although he was very popular when I was in high school among thoughtful, progressive Catholics like the brother of a girl I had a crush on. From what I could distill of his (the brother’s) descriptions, de Chardin believed that evolution was a blind, purposeless mechanism driven by chance and necessity that gradually produced more and more complex forms until it culminated in man and thus, spirit.

            Alas, I can enlighten nobody here, ’cause I’m kind of in the dark myself.

            • Chardin posited that evolution was directional. The Omega Point, in which God is active, is drawing everything inextricabley toward itself.

              • I read one of his books about a year ago. It is a very hopeful view. I came away feeling glad that everything would be ok.

            • Christiane says:

              Hello Mule,

              you write this,
              “Alas, I can enlighten nobody here, ’cause I’m kind of in the dark myself.”

              so are we all in our collective sojourn towards the Light . . . . . Mule, you are wiser than you give yourself credit for, yes

            • When Teilhard de Chardin was discussed in my Philosophy of Religion class at my Christian college,I thought he was crazy. That was nearly fifty years ago, well before personal computers infiltrated our lives followed by the internet and then smart phones. Having lived through all of that, it does seem as if his Noosphere is well on the path to coming about . His descriptions of where we humans are headed it seems are coming true. He is difficult to read and understand. Am glad to have found that John Haught for example in “Deeper than Darwin” and Ilia Delio in “Christ and Evolution” and “The Emergent Christ” are interpreters of de Chardin I can understand and find encouraging.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      “his juju-man Rudolf Steiner” – ain’t he just! 🙂

      On the interiority of animals – there is a growing amount of evidence for this in at least our fellow primates. I grow tired of saying this, but when thinking of this, I highly recommend one reads Frans de Waal on the subject. Or even just watch some YouTube videos of presentations/discussions/speeches he made.

      Part of the problem when thinking about these things is our tendency to see ourselves as “apart” from nature. There is nature, and then there is us. This is apparent in all sorts of ways – from philosophy to theology to conservationism – an artificial barrier is placed. Meanwhile, we miss the fact of “the interconnectedness of all things”. I am saying this as a materialist, for those who might be unsure. Interconnectedness itself is often hijacked in a Steinerian fashion, and turned into, as Mule calls it here, ju-ju. That is unfortunate.

    • Interesting read, Mule. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.

    • Your story reminded me a little of this:
      “When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye
      I turned to look but it was gone, I cannot put my finger on it now…”. Pink Floyd

    • Language is the only indicator we have of the existence of other minds, it is what bridges my interior world with your interior world.
      Now it is obvious to me that some kind interiority exists in the higher animals, especially among dogs, with whom I am most familiar, but probably also with apes and other primates, elephants, dolphins, horses, etc, with whom I am not so intimate.

      Sounds kinda familiar. Once, back in my logic-chopping i-WILL-systematize-theology-and-get-the-RIGHT-answer-to-EVERY-question phase, I turned my attention to the Imago Dei. What is it? Well, logically, since it is “the image of God” and was applied only to humans, it had to be whatever humans had that animals do not. Emotions? They have them. Internality/self-awareness? That too (my wife loves to tell the story of when our dog stopped barking at the “other dog” in the mirror and realized… “That’s ME!”). Language? Maybe not even that. Animals communicate, often in very sophisticated ways. I finally settled on the answer – the capacity for logic and abstract thought. Boom. The Imago Dei. Next problem!

      Nowadays, I would have some issues with that formulation. :-/

  7. What about the issue of death in evolution? Billions of deaths all required by evolution. How do you reconcile that with death being an enemy?(according to the New Testament).

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      1. That comes from a very poetic passage.
      2. The entirety of Scripture is bathed in God-ordained death – enemies (including infants), animals, etc etc.

      One might as well say that to accept the Bible’s narrative is to embrace death, as on physical death, not metaphorical.

  8. Burro [Mule] says:

    The fact that we die at all shows us that we are made of mortal stuff. Man in the garden was given the grace of eternal life in and through his communion with the Second Person of the Trinity in the Garden. When we broke communion, the old law of death reasserted itself. There is no life apart from God.

    As another Orthodox gentleman put it long ago in a galaxy far far away; There is a world of difference between “The day you eat of it, you shall die” and “The day you eat of it, I will kill you”.

  9. Enjoyable discussion.

    Many of the Early Church Fathers would have accepted an ancient science oriented view. However, a some of the Early Church Fathers said that the first part of Genesis was allegorical. Even those that held to a more literal interpretation of Genesis also had an allegorical interpretation of the passages, side by side.

    But, here is the important point. The historicity of the first part of Genesis was never made the subject of an Ecumenical Council. I cannot even think of a regional Council that required the historicity of the first part of Genesis. That is important. The Early Church was willing to debate many subjects. The reports we read in our history books only deal with a very few conclusions from the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Every Ecumenical Council actually produced many canons, most of which are never covered in a modern history book.

    If the Early Church had no problem with divergent views on the Creation, why should we? We are imposing a modern battle both on Scripture and on Holy Tradition, rather than allowing both Scripture and the Ecumenical Councils to speak to us.

  10. Tiny niggle, but something here is wrong: “That this was the viewpoint of ancient peoples can be seen from the image in Luther’s German translation of the Bible”.

    What can be seen is Luther’s understanding of ancient people’s viewpoint, but not sure that proves anything.

    //An alternative viewpoint on what “everyone knows” about ANE cosmology can be found here:

    http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2017/06/26/shaking-the-gates-of-hell

    http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2017/07/04/drifting-downstream-on-the-celestial-ocean/

    I find that particular blog fascinating as it seems to have an approach which is novel to me. Maybe it’s ID? Not sure ‘cos I haven’t really read up on either that much.