November 24, 2017

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 5- Ancient Science and the Book of God’s Words

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! Chapter 5- Ancient Science and the Book of God’s Words

By Denis O. Lamoureux

Like Denis, when other Evangelicals find out I am an evolutionist and a Christian they immediately want to challenge me by asking: “If evolution is true, then where in the Bible does it say that God uses an evolutionary process?”  There is that presupposition that scientific concordance is a feature of the Bible.  There is also the assumption that if God “accommodated” the ancient authors by using their understanding of science then God is a liar.  Questioning the truthfulness of scientific concordance is difficult because it is deeply ingrained within Evangelical churches, and has been at least since the early 1900’s.  As Denis confesses:

There was a critical moment when all this biblical evidence pointing to an ancient science came together and exploded in my mind.  It was a terrifying and dark moment.  For about twenty to thirty seconds, I thought about walking away from Christianity.  I felt completely betrayed.  Why had no one in my church or Sunday School ever taught me about the ancient science in Scripture or the Principle of Accommodation?

One of the greatest lessons I learned during my theological education was to read Scripture like a person in ancient time.  Though the Bible was written for everyone in every generation, it was written to a specific ancient people during a specific ancient period.

Of course Ken Ham, AIG, and all the YEC crowd cannot acknowledge the Principle of Accommodation because their entire house of cards would come down.  Simon Turpin, AIG writer, in his review of Denis’s book  says:

Lamoureux recognizes that referring to the Bible as “ancient science” brings with it the accusation that God lied; therefore, he is quick to point out that this is not the case, as God “accommodated in the Bible and permitted the use of an ancient understanding of origins in the creation accounts.”

For Lamoureux the concept of accommodation means Genesis is ancient (i.e., false) historiography; the human author of Genesis 1 believed the events happened just as described, but because of evolution we now know they did not. This does, however, imply that God is responsible for communicating a flawed worldview to His people. Lamoureux confuses the concept of accommodation with the idea of error in the Bible. Rather, the traditional understanding of accommodation means “that [God] speaks truth in such a way that we can understand it, insofar as it can be understood by human beings.” For example, parents often accommodate their children with the question “where do babies come from” by answering, “They grow in mommy’s tummy.” On the other hand, to answer, “A stork delivered the baby,” would be a lie, not an accommodation.

To maintain this idea that God’s accommodation of the ancients does not extend to their scientific understanding and their description of the cosmos, the YEC folk must maintain that the writers of scripture used phenomenological language in the same way we use it today.  We still say the sun “rises” and “sets” as figurative or phenomenological language, but it is an incontrovertible fact that the visible phenomenon was accepted as scientific fact until the seventeenth century. From Martin Luther himself (Table Talk):

“There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved.  But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth? “

And from the trial of Galileo:

“We pronounce this Our final sentence: We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world; also, that an opinion can be held and supported as probable, after it has been declared and finally decreed contrary to the Holy Scripture…”

The mistake that AIG and other Evangelicals make in trying to explain passages that refer to the movement of the sun is that they read these scriptures through their modern phenomenological perspective.  It is a clear case of eisegeses.

Denis introduces his “Message-Incident Principle” as illustrated in his Figure 5-2.  The Message-Incident Principle asserts that the spiritual truths in the Bible are inerrant because they are absolutely true.  These eternal truths are the foundation of Christianity.  So, for example, in Genesis 1 the central message of faith is that God is the creator, the creation is good, and humans are created in the image of God.  God then accommodated the ancient authors understanding of nature, which is only incidental to the truth God was trying to communicate.

A New Testament example would be in Philippians 2:9-11 where Paul says:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Most Christian rarely think of the phrase “under the earth” but a better translation of the Greek word for “under the earth” would be “down in the underworld”.  This reflects Paul’s and other ancients understanding of the “3-Tier Universe” as depicted in Figure 5-3.

The truth of the Philippians passage does not hinge on Paul’s ancient understanding of how the cosmos was constructed (incidental) but rather the message is that Jesus is Lord over the entire creation.  So ancient incidental science:

  • Immovable Earth. The “world is firmly established; it cannot be moved”  1 Chron 16:30, Ps 96:10, Ps 93:1
  • The Circular Earth and the Circumferential Sea. The horizon gives the appearance of being a circle and travel in the ANE usually ended at the shoreline of a sea.  Is 40:22
  • The Underworld. Hebrew Sheol and Greek Hades.  The idea that the underworld where dead people go is under the surface of the earth.  Amos 9:2, Ps 139:8, Phil 2:10
  • The flat earth. The devil takes Jesus up to a high mountain from which they could see the “whole earth” Mt 4:8-9
  • The Firmament. Translation of Hebrew raquia, “to flatten”, “to hammer down and flatten out” like a beaten copper pot. Gen 1, Job 37:18
  • The Heavenly Body of Water. Gen 1, Ps 148:4, Jer 10 :12-13
  • The Sun, Moon, and Stars in the Firmament. Gen 1, Isaiah 34:4, “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.”

Which brings us to ancient biology.  Ancient taxonomy classified bats as birds (Lev. 11:13-19) and rabbits as ruminants like cows (Lev. 11:6).  God made plants and animals “according to their kinds”.  You got wheat from wheat seeds, figs from a fig tree, grapes from a grape vine, female sheep gave birth to sheep, and women were always the mother of human infants.  In other words, plants and animals never changed and were always the same.  In the ancient understanding of human reproduction, only men were said to have reproductive seed, never women.  The women’s womb was the “field” where the man’s seed was planted.  Infertility was always the women’s fault and the Hebrew word “barren” means to “uproot” and the Greek word meant “hard” like the parable where the hard ground wont’ accept seed (Luke 8).

There is no hint of transitional organisms or biological evolution in the Genesis account of creation, or anywhere else in the bible.  I think Denis kind of oversold the “Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!” meme.  The Scripture doesn’t say “yes” to evolution because the ancient authors had not the slightest idea that such a thing was even possible.  To them, the “kinds” were immutable.  Since sheep always brought forth sheep, logically if you worked your way back through sheep ancestry you would come to the first sheep.  Likewise with humans, if you worked your way back through human ancestry you would come to the first pair.  That’s why the author of Genesis gives their names as “Human” and “Life”.  And if God is the creator of everything, then he created the first humans de novo, how else could it have been?

So they told the ancient stories, and that was good enough, it got the point across.  And let’s be honest here; it makes a better story than the one evolutionary anthropologist are trying to tell.  Most moderns have imaginative trouble conceiving of populations shifting alleles ever so gradually until the distinction between modern humans and their immediate predecessors can no longer be differentiated, but somehow modern man has emerged.  Even the useful “Embryological Analogy” breaks down because at a distinct point in time a human child emerges from the womb.  It is a knick-point that evolutionary anthropologists have yet to describe.


  1. In my opinion we have to abandon fundamentalism. When we do this it removes a lot of the issues that plague the fundamentalist mindset. Infallibility, inerrancy, “ancient science”; these ideas become moot.

    Let me provide an example from the New Testament. Critical NT scholars have realized for a hundred years that Mark is the earliest gospel. We know this because both Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source. But upon close examination you quickly realize that they didn’t just quote Mark. They modified him. They added material and removed material in order to make their own distinct theological points. So, Matthew and Luke clearly viewed Mark as an authoritative source but obviously not as infallible, inerrant scripture. Why should we have an attitude towards these books that the writers themselves didn’t have?

    • Funny thing about fundamentalism is that when it disappears or is gotten rid of in one place, it almost invariably shows up in another.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        How so?

        • People become entrenched in their ideas or beliefs so much so that they cannot stand any challenges to what they believe. This can happen to the most conservative fundamentalist Baptist and the most liberal atheist (not saying all atheists are liberals, just two folks who on the surface seem very different). When we refuse to listen to contrary ideas or to have our beliefs challenged, and when we automatically belittle and mock people who disagree, we have become fundamentalists

          • I think it’s just that people want Answers.

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

              Not just Answers, but One True Way ANSWERS! To EVERYTHING!

              Without having to engage any neuron above the brainstem — just recite the Twitter-length ANSWER from the App popup.
              “IT IS WRITTEN!”
              “I HAVE A VERSE!”

        • Sorry, Clay, I was unable to answer at work. But Jon said pretty much what I would have anyway.

  2. “Most moderns have imaginative trouble conceiving of populations shifting alleles ever so gradually until the distinction between modern humans and their immediate predecessors can no longer be differentiated, but somehow modern man has emerged.”

    I admit this has always been one of my biggest problems with evolution. I realize that it is supposed to take a really long time to see the significant differences that would separate into different species, but it seems like surely we would occasionally be able to identify it happening in recorded history. Are there examples of this?

  3. +1 This was really good.

  4. Burro [Mule] says:

    Why does Ham think God lied?

    Does he think God dictated Genesis to Moses like the archangel Jibril is supposed to have dictated the Quran to Mohammed?

    As if our science isn’t always being modified by more accurate science. If God had rewritten Genesis in 1896, would He have to rewrite it again in 2017 to keep from being a liar?


    As respects Stephen and Fundamentalists, I understand the feeling. It’s how I feel about, oh, whole groups of people. I remember George W. Bush saying ‘I don’t do nuance’. That’s the root of it. People get impatient with nuance. I get impatient with nuance. You can be paralyzed by an attention to nuance. Ask Hamlet.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Does he think God dictated Genesis to Moses like the archangel Jibril is supposed to have dictated the Quran to Mohammed?

      In one word: YES.

      Otherwise the Bible is one Big Lie.

      (Though in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe instead of Classical Meccan Arabic.)

    • –> “Why does Ham think God lied?”

      He doesn’t, of course. The “nuance” of Ham’s (and other YEC) thinking is that he himself (Ham) doesn’t think God lied, but rather if YOU believe in evolution, then YOU must think God lied.

      I tell people (fundamentalists) all the time: No. Just because I believe differently than you doesn’t mean that your “X, Y, and Z” follow. If you don’t think I can believe in evolution and believe in the Bible at the same time, that’s your problem.

    • “As if our science isn’t always being modified by more accurate science. If God had rewritten Genesis in 1896, would He have to rewrite it again in 2017 to keep from being a liar?”

      According to the arguments of many fundamentalists, that IS the problem. Science keeps changing (therefore can’t be ‘true’) but the Genesis creation account never changes – because it is scientifically accurate and doesn’t need to change. That is, if you make a lot of assumptions about the nature of the Bible and truth that usually only fundamentalists make.

  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It is a common fallacy to assume the “ancients” thought the Earth was flat. The Greeks knew the earth to be round centuries before Christ and had even calculated its circumference with reasonable accuracy. Educated people knew this to be true in Paul’s time, although no-one knows as far as I have been able to find out what the general populace thought. Whether Paul thought the Earth was flat is unknowable. My understanding is he was reasonably educated, but this education might not have included astronomy. There is nothing on the quote to say whether he really thought if someone kept digging long enough they would physically break into the underworld.

    • Mike the Geologist says:

      Yes, that is Denis’ list. However, the Greeks still believed in geocentrism. Paul’s phraseology in Philippians 2:9-11 and his use of the Greek word, “katachthonios” would seem to indicate he accepted the 3-tiered cosmos, as did most Jews at that time.

  6. Interesting theory I read recently (might not be new to people here):
    Genesis chapter 1 is about the creation of humanity.
    Genesis chapter 2 is about the ‘calling’ of Adam & Eve, as proto-Israel, to a special covenant with God (and, as proto Israel, they screwed it up).

  7. And by that I imply all of cryptocurreny.