From: "Robert Schneider" 
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 98 20:25:33 EST
Subject: REVISED Creation and Evolution Discussion

    Here is the edited version of my META posting for your use.
From: "Robert Schneider" 
Subject: Creation*and* Evolution

Berea College, where I teach a senior seminar entitled "Science and Faith,"
is an independent liberal arts college, committed to "the cause of Christ"
but non- sectarian and non-creedal. Probably 75% of the student body, who
come from the mountain counties of Appalachian America, are conservative or
fundamentalist Christians from Baptist, Pentecostal and Holiness traditions. 

    Recently, a small but active campus Christian group has been vigorously
promoting the creationist ideology of the Creation Research Institute and
Answers in Genesis, the Ken Ham organization located now 100 miles north of
us in Northern Kentucky. Dr. Gary Parker was the featured speaker at a
creationism seminar held on campus last fall term. This event has provided
a "teachable moment" for many of us on the faculty, and some of this
teaching has taken place on the campus electronic mail system on two public
bulletin boards. One was established as a forum for exploring the
relationship between faith and learning, as part of the College's
re-examination of its "Christian commitment."

    I suspect that all of us who teach undergraduates wrestle with how to
get across to the ill-informed the real meaning of creation theologically
and biblically, and how it can be seen as compatible with the modern
scientific world view. I offer the statement below as one teacher's attempt
to do this to a general student readership; it was originally posted on
our Faith and Learning bb. I would be grateful for comments and suggestions.


  A number of Christian believers are sincere in their view that the
acceptance of evolution is incompatible with belief in a creating God.
Since this topic is one that is intimately involved in the question of the
relationship between faith and learning, and has come up on this bulletin
board, I would like to address it and help to inform the discussion on this
topic. What many Christians seem not to know, and what I would like to help
them to learn, is that there is a rich and fruitful development in
contemporary theology, Christian and Jewish, that is seeking to understand
again the meaning of creation as it is revealed in the Bible in the light
of the overwhelming evidence for, and acceptance by most believers of, the
modern scientific world view: that is, of a Universe characterized by
cosmic evolution and the evolution of life on this planet (and perhaps on
innumerable other planets throughout this vast Universe). This theological
inquiry begins with the unalterable faith in God as the Creator and
Sustainer of the Universe, but understands God's creating activity as
continually taking place in an evolving universe that began in the past
billions of years ago and is moving toward an unknown future.

  First, a clarification. Part of the misunderstanding that exists in some
Christian circles is a confusion about what "evolution" is. We must
distinguish between the scientific evolutionary paradigm that is explained
by various theories of how evolution takes place (e.g., neo-Darwinism); AND
a naturalistic philosophy ("evolutionism") that claims that the Cosmos has 
always existed and evolution is a wholly natural process, and that therefore 
there is no God or Creator. Much of the criticism and rejection of "evolution" 
in some Christian circles is in fact a rejection of this philosophy confused 
with scientific evolution. But the SCIENTIFIC theories of evolution in no way
prove or deny the possibility that this universe was created, and created
by God. The truth of the matter is that science is not in the business of
answering these philosophical/theological questions; it only seeks to
understand and explain the universe as it now exists and how it got to be
the way it is now. There is nothing in the scientific theories of evolution
that deny creation. In fact, since the emergence of an evolutionary
understanding of the Universe, a very large segment of the Christian
community and its theologians have sought to understand Creation according
to an evolutionary model. It is not "creation vs. evolution," these
theologians say, "but creation *and* evolution."

  It is obvious that this *scientific* concept of evolution has something
to say to theology, and theologians for the past 150 years have been
listening. And this response to scientific theories and models is nothing
new in Christian thought. At every point in the history of Christian
thought, theologians have responded to the new scientific views of their
times by rethinking their understanding of the creation passages in the
Bible. The early Church Fathers interpreted biblical creation in the light
of Plato's cosmology. St. Thomas Aquinas and his contemporaries did this
again in the 13th century, when Aristotelian science made its appearance in
the West; other theologians did the same when the new cosmology of Isaac
Newton became established in the 18th century. In these and other instances
Christian thought has been enriched by theological reflection on scientific
and cosmological models of the Creation. In our time, the contributions of
Darwin, Einstein, Hubble, Plank, the creators of chaos and complexity
theories, and the ecologists, that is, the creators of the new scientific
consensus of the nature and history and structure of the universe, have
been challenging and inspiring theologians to think anew the relationship
of God to God's Universe, to try to understand how God interacts with

  Developments in the theology of creation have taken two tacks. One is to
think anew about what Creation in the Bible is really about. Contemporary
theologians from a variety of Christian traditions understand Creation in
the Bible to be a THEOLOGICAL concept, not a scientific concept. Their
understanding is that the sacred Biblical writers are proclaiming that the
world we live in is a *created* world, created out of nothing by the God
who reveals himself as its Creator, who takes delight in his creation, who
brings out of nothing the universe into being through the Word, and
sustains it by the power of the Spirit, gives it order and structure, and
fills it with plenitude. These messages are found throughout the Old
Testament, not only in Genesis but also in the Psalms, the prophets, the wisdom 
literature; and also it is found in several key New Testament passages that 
proclaim Christ as the creator of the Cosmos. None of these passages are 
statements of science, for, Christian theologians have long asserted, the Bible 
does not teach science. Rather they are statements of theology. As theology they 
are true and valid, whatever scientific models and theories about the nature of 
the Unverse happen to be current. Scientific theories or models do not cancel 
out, theological truth; rather, they invite theological reflection on the way
these timeless truths might be expressed for our time.

  This thinking anew has led to a deeper understanding of the Creation
statement in the first chapter of Genesis. Against the claim that Genesis 1
is to be read and interpreted as a straightforward scientific account of
how God created, modern theologians and biblical scholars, building upon
thorough and careful studies of the literal and the spiritual senses of the
text in the light of its own history and cosmology, recognize that the real
meaning of Creation in Genesis is theological. The Creation account in
Genesis chapter one exhibits an interesting pattern, as some biblical
scholars have described. Genesis 1 starts with darkness and chaos, with a
cosmos that is without form ("tohu" in Hebrew) and empty ("bohu" in
Hebrew). What the account describes, in liturgical and formulaic language,
is how "tohu" is given form and "bohu" is filled. So, the first three days are
characterized by processes of *separation*: (1) light from the darkness;
(2) the waters of the Deep divided to create waters above (the firmament)
and waters below; and (3) earth (land) is separated out from water (seas).
Then in the next three days, what has been given form is *filled*: (4)
lights are called forth into the firmament and the heavens; (5) creatures
into sea and sky; (6) land creatures, including humans, onto the earth. At
every stage God declares Creation to be "good." So, the theological message
is clear: God's creation is orderly, natural, structured, and inherently
good, and that which God takes delight in. And human beings share in the
divine image and divine task of taking care of the earthly part of the cosmos.

   When Genesis 1 is looked at as a literary schema rather than a
scientific description, then one gets a deeper appreciation, I believe, of
its theological message. And let me add that this literary approach to
understanding the Creation text is not an invention of modern Bible
scholars and theologians. The early Church Fathers who wrote on Genesis
also did not take this as a scientific description. Two of the greatest
minds of the early Church, Basil of Caesarea and Augustine of Hippo (4th
and 5th centuries), in their commentaries on Genesis, understood that the
pattern of the "six days" was to be understood as a topical pattern for setting
forth of the elements of creation, not as six literal days of creation. In fact
both held that God created everything in an instant, time included, and
that everything that has gone on since has been an unfolding of the
creation (a theological concept not incompatible with "big bang" theory and

   Now, biblical scholars have long recognized that there is a cosmology in
Genesis, and it is the same cosmology as the Mesopotamian neighbors of the
ancient Israelites. When this cosmology is seen for what it is, when the
literal sense of the Bible is recognized in its words about the cosmos,
this ancient cosmology becomes clear. This Semitic model of the universe is
of a circular but flat earth anchored on the Deep, so that it cannot be
moved, and covered by a transparent dome called the firmament, which
separates the waters of the Deep from the waters above the firmament which
the ancients believed were the source of rain, snow, hail, etc. And the
moveable lights like the sun and moon were between the firmament and the
earth and its sea. Now this was a pretty good model of the Universe for its
time. It made a lot of sense, and it is no wonder the ancient Israelites
shared it with their semitic neighbors like the Mesopotamians. But there is
a crucial difference between the Hebrew and the other Mesopotamian
cosmologies, and the difference is THEOLOGICAL. The others believed that
there were many gods who inhabited the cosmos and were expressions of its
parts and forces, and that this cosmos was in constant conflict and
turmoil; and that human beings were created to be slaves of the gods. How
different is the Hebrew theology of creation! Only one God, creation
natural not divine, peaceful, and orderly (ecological), and humankind made
in God's image!
   Genesis 1 teaches believers a valuable lesson: you can take whatever is
the cosmology of your day and interpret it theologically. That is what the
sacred writers of Genesis did, and they have given every age of Christian
thinkers since their time a model for doing the very same thing. And this
is the second tack. When we take the current scientific model of the
universe, the evolving universe, and engage in theological reflection on
it, we are doing just what the Bible writers did with the cosmological
model of their own day. And there is a conflict in our day too. It is
between those who take the current scientific world-picture and base a
philosophy or ideology on it that says that there is no God, no creator,
and that the universe has no purpose and is pointless. But we who believe
that God is the creator can take the same scientific model and understand
it in a quite different light: we can integrate it with our own theological
reflections about creation. We can still proclaim, as many Christian
thinkers who are both scientists or scientifically knowledgeable on the one
hand, and theologians or theologically literate on the other, are
proclaiming: that this universe is created by a loving and gracious God and
that it is purposeful, meaningful, moral, and good.

   Here are just a few of those theologians, scientists, and educators: you will 
find books and articles by most of them in the Hutchins Library if you want to 
look further into their ideas:

Ian Barbour (Christian historian of science and physicist; the "reverend
 father in God" of science & religion studies)
John Polkinghorne (Anglican priest and mathematical physicist);

Arthur Peacocke (Anglican priest and biologist; founder of the Society of
 Ordained Scientists);

Nancy Murphy (Church of the Brethren minister and theologian);

Robert Russell (United Church of Christ minister and physicist; founder and 
 director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences);

Langdon Gilkey (Baptist theologian and Bible scholar);

Lloyd Bailey (Bible scholar and professor of Hebrew);

Jurgen Moltmann (Evangelical theologian);

Karl Rahner (Roman Catholic priest and theologian);

Ernan McMullen (Roman Catholic priest, philosopher and physicist);

John Cobb (Presbyterian theologian working in process theology);

Willem Drees (Reformed Church of Holland, physicist);

Ted Peters (Lutheran theologian in the field of bioethics);

Philip Hefner (Lutheran minister and theologian; director of the Chicago
 Center for Religion and Science);

Sally McFague (Feminist theologian at Vanderbilt Divinity School). 

I've given these names to help readers realize how intimately involved
these people (most of them ordained ministers) are in the life of the
Church, in learning, and in constructing for Christian people a theology of
creation for our new scientific age.

  Well, if evolution and an evolutionary cosmos doesn't rule out God as you
say, Schneider, then how does God interact with God's universe? A good
question. A question that these and other theologians have been reflecting
upon in recent years. Let me mention a few lines of thought these
theologians are following, with the understanding that these lines of
inquiry are incomplete--new theological expressions of God's interaction
with the world do not pop up overnight complete--but are being seen as
fruitful. Here's a few:

    GOD AS PERSUASIVE LOVER: if God is love, as we believe, and the nature
of love is to call forth from the beloved the fullness of the beloved's
being, then God can be understood to relate to the Universe God created as
a lover to his beloved. Lovers do not coerce, rather they persuade. God, in
this theological model, allows the Universe to freely come into being,
respecting the independence God has given all of Creation. All of creation
has "free will" so to speak. Such a view of God and the cosmos makes
theological sense of an evolutionary world-view. God says, "Let there be"
but does not dictate the forms that will come into existence, instead God
allows the potential of chance and the inherent organizational properties
of matter (that God built into matter) working together to be realized in the 
infinite variety of ways both inanimate and animate matter have evolved in the
cosmos. The old theological model of a divine determinism gives away to a
still biblically valid model of the God who allows indeterminism as the
natural process of coming into being.

    THE "KENOTIC" GOD: In Philippians 2:5-11, Christ is described as
"emptying" himself of divinity--the Greek word is "kenosis." This biblical
metaphor is applied to God's relationship to the world (for, in Christian
theology, Christ is the Word through whom God creates). For the universe to
be distinct from its Creator, it must have its own internal "self-coherence" or 
autonomy. God "voluntarily" withdraws or withholds divine power to let the 
universe be and become itself. Thus, Creation is an expression not of divine 
might but of divine humility--the humility that every lover shows toward the 
beloved. Creation co-operates with God, so to speak, in the creative process. 
Divine Love invites the world into being and continually challenges it to higher 
levels of complexity. The universe is not God's robot but the object of God's 
intimate love and joy as it comes more and more into being in its evolution. The 
creation is in a co-creating partnership with its Creator.

    GOD AND THE UNIVERSE AS PROCESS: related to the first and second
models, in process theology, God and the universe develop together, so to
speak. God as transcendent stand outside of the universe God creates, but
God as Immanent is intimately involved as Lover calling the universe into
being and knowing the Universe as it becomes known. (This complementary
model of God as both transcendent and immanent has ancient roots in
Christian theology.)

  None of these models *explain* just how God interacts with the cosmos,
but there is work in that area of theology also. Some theologians are
suggesting that God interacts directly in the processes of nature on the
quantum level. But whatever theological models emerge of God's relationship
to and interaction with the Universe, they will be no different in one
respect from ancient models such as God as Craftsman, or Monarch, or Molder
of Clay; that is, they like the ancient models will be metaphorical.
Because, metaphor is the only language we can use to speak of God. God in
the final analysis is ineffable, beyond the  power of words to capture
God's nature and activities. God remains eternally shrouded in mystery,
where, when all is said and done, we must encounter God. And that is
biblical, too.

   This seems like a good place to end this set of reflections on God and
Creation and the modern evolutionary world-picture. Your comments and
questions are welcome. I shall be happy to pursue further any of the topics
I've raised in this note with anyone, here on Faith and Learning, or

Robert Schneider
Classics and General Studies
Berea College
Berea, KY 40404

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