Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Parts 1 - 3) - By Ken Gilmore

Editor's Note: Another article by the Ken-Cat. I don't agree with much of what he has written and Ken does not agree with much of what I write. He is a Theist and I am not. But for those Christadelphians who want to reconcile science with the Bible and keep their Theism; this is undoubtedly the route to go.  

Ken has aimed this piece at a wider audience than his other work and I think this is a good thing. Readers who found his previous articles going over their heads, will quickly grasp the points that he is making here.

I have answered the article and shown why it is mistaken in the comments section at the end.

By Ken Gilmore
Source: Click Here

I’m aware of some confusion among both special creationists and non-theists about exactly what evolutionary creationism means. In my experience, both theist and non-theist make the mistake of thinking ECs believe that the creation narratives either explicitly refer to evolution as the mechanism of creation, or can be harmonised with an evolutionary natural history. This is wrong.

You will find no reference to evolution anywhere in the creation narratives. However, you will find no unambiguous reference to heliocentrism, a spherical Earth or any other aspect of the modern world for the simple reason that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, not modern science, and serves both as a polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation mythology, a well as an account of functional origins (order from chaos) as opposed to material origins.

Literalism and Strong Concordism are both flawed exegetical options

Critics of EC make the mistake of thinking that the only exegetical options open for the creation narratives are literalism or strong concordism. Literalists take the creation narratives literally (though not as literally as they think) and insist that a recent creation in six days is what the text teaches. Strong concordists are willing to recognise that the Earth is ancient, but still think that the days of creation refer to sequential creation events which can be harmonised with geology. The classic strong concordist views are the Gap Theory, which posits a global catastrophe between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2, followed by six days of re-creation, and the day-age theory which claims that the days are not 24 hour days but unspecified time periods.

Both literalism and strong concordism are untenable. Literalism is readily falsified by the fact that the Earth is ancient, and life has been on this planet for at least 3800 million years. The Gap Theory is falsified because there is no geological evidence of a global ruin such as the theory demands. The Day-Age theory likewise is falsified because the order of creation events in Gen 1 does not correspond with natural history. For example, Genesis 1 teaches that birds were created before mammals, but the fossil record tells us that mammals appeared around 200 million years ago[1], well before feathered dinosaurs (which preceded birds) appearing around 160 million years ago[2]. Furthermore, it stretches credulity to imagine that plants dependent on pollination survived untold ages before the animals that pollinated them were created. From a scientific point of view, both literalism and strong concordism have been falsified. Evangelical geologist Davis Young, in his survey of the history of Christian approaches to geology declares:

The inability of literalism to provide a satisfactory agreement between the biblical text and geological knowledge can be seen on two counts. In the first place, modern literalistic interpretations of the creation and flood texts yield results that are wildly at variance with geological knowledge. In the second place the wide variation of interpretation demonstrates that we have not yet discovered the proper understanding of “scientifically relevant” biblical texts. Literalism, after 300 years, has failed and no longer provides a fruitful approach for achieving the appropriate biblical view of geology.

Concordism has been unable to provide a satisfactory agreement between the biblical text and geological knowledge. Concordistic efforts have never been able to do justice to the fourth day of creation and to the relative positioning of the third and fifth days of creation in relationship to geological knowledge. On the other hand the variation of suggestions further demonstrates that concordism has not helped us to understand “scientifically relevant” biblical texts any more than has literalism. Concordism, after 250 years, has also failed and no longer may be assumed to provide a fruitful approach for achieving an appropriate biblical view of geology.[3]

The scientific problems alone decisively refute literalism and strong concordism, but ultimately, both views cannot be reconciled with what the narratives actually state. Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with Genesis 2 if both are read as literal, consecutive accounts of creation. Genesis 1 teaches creation in six days and refers to the creation of male and female humans together, while Genesis 2 refers to creation in one day and places the creation of man before woman. As OT scholar Peter Enns notes:

These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there. The differences between the two creation accounts are further complemented by differences seen in other Old Testament passages such as Psalms 77:16–20; 89:5–37; Job 9:4–15; 26:5–14; 38:4–38; and Isaiah 40:12–31; 44:24–28. It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation.[4]

[1] K. A. Kermack, Frances Mussett, and H. W. Rigney, "The skull of Morganucodon", Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, (1981) 71:1-158.
[2] Xu, X.; Zhao, Q.; Norell, M.; Sullivan, C.; Hone, D.; Erickson, G.; Wang, X.; Han, F. & Guo, Y. "A new feathered maniraptoran dinosaur fossil that fills a morphological gap in avian origin". Chinese Science Bulletin (2009) 54: 430–435
[3] Young DA “Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part 2)” Westminster Theological Journal 49:291–292.
[4] Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012), 52.
Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 2

Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology, not Modern Science

I referred earlier to Genesis 1 being ancient cosmology and not modern science in my opening paragraph, and this is the fundamental reason why literalism / strong concordism are false. YECs claim that they are faithful to the literal word of the text. They are not.

Gen 1:6-8 refers to the creation of a firmament separating waters above from waters below. It also refers to the stars being set in the firmament and birds flying across the face of the firmament. The firmament cannot be the atmosphere as stars are not in our atmosphere. It cannot be outer space as birds tend not to survive in a vacuum. The word raqia’ translated as firmament is used in Ezekiel 1 to refer to the solid dome below which the living creatures flew, and above which was a throne on which a heavenly being sat. The lexical data also supports the idea: one of the leading Hebrew lexicons notes that “by [raqia’] was understood the gigantic heavenly dome which was the source of the light that brooded over the heavenly ocean and of which the dome arched above the earthly globe.”[1] YECs who claim to read the creation narratives literally are not consistent in their literalism, otherwise they would teach that the sky was actually solid. Such exegetical inconsistency makes a mockery of YEC claims for strict literalism. As Susan Piggott, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in the Logsdon School of Theology notes:
Most people who claim they read Genesis 1 “literally” don’t. They believe that what they believe about Genesis 1 is literal. But they aren’t reading Genesis 1 literally. If we read Genesis 1 literally, we come out with a very different picture than most literalists imagine. Indeed, we find ourselves firmly planted in the Hebrew worldview—an ancient worldview. And, if we know our history, we know that the Hebrews had no concept of a round earth that coursed around the sun. They believed the earth was flat, the sky was a dome, and the sun revolved around the earth.[2]

This is why I refer to Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology and not modern science. God accommodated the worldview of the day, rather than trying to teach a pre-scientific audience a modern scientific view that they would not be able to comprehend.[3] The concept of divine accommodation is hardly new – Calvin recognised that the concept of waters above the heavens was hard to comprehend, but recognised that Genesis accommodated a pre-modern worldview:

Moses describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters,” from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned[4]

Genesis 1 reflects the cosmological world view (note, not the mythology!) of the ancient world, where the Earth was regarded as flat, with a solid dome overhead separating waters above from waters below, in which the stars were set. Significantly, God was quite happy to accommodate that worldview. As CC Walker, the second editor of The Christadelphian notes:

Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history.[5]

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 1290.

[2] Piggott S  “Reading Genesis 1  ‘Literally’ ” Scribalishess Jan 3 2014 http://scribalishess.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/reading-genesis-1-literally/comment-page-1/#comment-3

[3] Evangelical scholar Paul Seely, in his widely-cited paper on the firmament of Genesis 1  notes that “…around AD 200 a school of thought arose in China that posited that the sky was empty space. This is to my knowledge the first and only time that anyone in the ancient Eastern world thought of the sky as  not being solid. So novel was this idea even to the West that as late as the sixteenth century a Jesuit missionary to China wrote home saying the idea that the sky is not solid is "one of the absurdities of the Chinese"!” If 16th century Europeans regarded the solidity of the sky as self-evidently true, it hardly needs to be pointed out that pre-scientific Hebrews would have likewise found a modern cosmology impossible to comprehend. See Paul H. Seely “The Firmament and the Water Above Part I: The Meaning of Raqia’ in Gen 1:6-8” The Westminster Theological Journal (1991) 53:227-40

[4] John Calvin and John King, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (vol. 1; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 79–80.

[5] Walker CC “Is it Wrong to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?” The Christadelphian (1913), 50:348.
Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 3

Genesis 1 refers to functional origins, not material origins

To summarise what we’ve covered:

  • Special creationist (and many non-theist critics) make the mistake of reading the creation narratives either as a literal account of creation in six days 6000 years ago, or a strong concordist account which can be harmonised with natural history
  • This is false from both scientific and Biblical reasons, mainly because Genesis 1 reflects ancient cosmology, in which the Earth was flat, fixed and covered with a solid firmament
  • Genesis 1 accommodates this ancient worldview rather than waste time trying to teach modern science to an audience. Genesis was more concerned with declaring who created the universe, rather than obsess over mechanical details unintelligible to the original audience.

 One final reason for rejecting literalism or strong concordism is that both proceed on the assumption that it is referring to an account of material origins. OT scholars however have shown that there is good reason that the ancient Near Eastern world was more concerned with a functional ontology of creation, rather than material origins. In other words, the origin of order, structure and function was of primary concern. Accommodation of pre-scientific worldviews helps us understand the creation narrative with respect to its apparent endorsement of patently unscientific ideas such as a solid firmament. Only by grasping the difference between a material and functional ontology of creation will we finally grasp what the creation narratives are about, and why literalism, and strong concordism have nothing to say about how to interpret Genesis.

In Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, OT scholar John Walton notes:
To create is to bring something into existence that did not exist prior to the act of creation. Consequently, if we are to understand ancient ideas about creation we need to gain an understanding of ancient ideas regarding existence. This puts understanding the cosmic ontology of ancient peoples center stage. Modern cosmic ontology—our cosmic ontology—is primarily material, and the result is that when we think of the act of creation, we think mostly about the origins of matter in its various forms throughout the universe. This way of thinking is not the only ontological option, and I will propose that it is not the option that was current in the ancient cognitive environment…It is clear from the cosmological literature of the ancient Near East that order in the cosmos and the control of the functions of the cosmos were more prominent in the ancient thought world than any consideration of the material origins of the cosmos.[1]

This doesn’t mean that the ancient world had zero interest in material origins, but rather that their primary concern was the origin of order, structure and function. A survey of the ancient Near Eastern world tends to confirm this. Walton again:

·         The precosmic world was understood not as a world absent of matter but a world absent of function, order, diversity, and identity.
·         Depictions of the state of things before and after creation, between which the acts of creation serve as transition, focus on origins of function and order, and the verbs used to describe creation operate in the same semantic realm.
·         The things created in the related realms of cosmos and culture are functions, not objects.
·         In the context of creation, causes are entirely in the realm of the gods and are characterized by a teleological perspective that transcends and virtually ignores the material, physical, natural world.
·         Reality and existence in the ancient cognitive environment are best described as comprising function and order, not matter and objects.
·         The acts of creation were naming, separating, and temple building.
·         In the ancient world, something was created when it was given a function.
·         The functions of the cosmos and culture are all relative to people.
·         The functions of the ordered cosmos were defined first and foremost by the MES, which, unlike the cosmic waters, did not exist prior to the gods’ creative activity; on the other hand, these functions were not instituted by the gods.
·         The operational dichotomy was static (the MES) versus dynamic (the destinies).
·         Decreeing destinies was both functional in nature and at the same time an act of creation and rule.
·         Exercise of control over the destinies and the rule of the world, including both the gods and eventually humans, originates in the temple, which is ordained as the control room of the cosmos.
·         The mes that most frequently describe the functional cosmos—time, weather, and fertility—are generally portrayed as being organized and delegated by the gods.[2]

When we look at Genesis 1, we see that the six days naturally fall into two groups of three days:

Day 1: Separation of light from darkness

Day 2: Separation of waters above from waters below

Day 3a: Separation of dry land from waters

Day 3b: Appearance of vegetation on dry land

Day 4: Appointing of sun, moon and stars to separate day and night and mark time

Day 5: Appearance of birds in the air and sea creatures in the water

Day 6: Appearance of animals on the dry land

Day 6b: Appearance of humans

The existence of this structure alone should have been reason enough to consider whether reading Genesis 1 as a literal account of material origins was the correct way to read the narrative. What we see here is the creation of ‘domains’ in days 1-3 and domain inhabitants in days 4-6. The connection between vegetation and humans in days 3b and 6b may appear forced, but when we recognise that the ancient Hebrews were an agricultural people, this connection becomes meaningful. This is particularly emphasised in Gen 2:5-7 where the origins of humans and rain has a decidedly functional reason:
when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. [3]

Here we see two pre-creation problems: no wild vegetation and no cultured crops. The Divine solution is to provide rain (weather) and humans to cultivate the ground (agriculture). The emphasis is less here on the creation of the rain and humans, but on the functions that they perform.

I’ve referred earlier to the role of Genesis as a polemic, that is, a sustained criticism of existing pagan cosmologies.  YECs and OECs, by privileging a material account of creation ignore the fact that when one recognises the functional ontology of Genesis, the similarities and differences between Genesis and existing cosmologies become meaningful.
Absent in Genesis is any reference to humans being created as corvee labour for the gods, as one sees in Mesopotamian mythology. Rather:

The station of humanity in the cosmos as portrayed in Genesis 1 is, therefore, almost precisely opposite of the picture in Mesopotamian literature, where people are slaves of the gods and thus involved in helping the gods do their work. In Genesis, humanity is a partner in the work of ruling. Furthermore, people are given a role as partners because the functional nature of humanity is identified with its maleness and femaleness, both in the image of God…

The foregoing observations make it clear that Genesis 1 completely restructures the position and role of the participants on the cosmic stage. For instance, in Genesis, humanity is granted a role that is reminiscent of the role of some gods in Mesopotamian literature. In Enki and the World Order, Inanna complains that she has not received any control attributes to administer. In Inanna and Enki, she is given some. Compare this to the Genesis account, in which God transfers some control attributes to Adam and Eve by means of the image of God and the blessing, allowing them to decree destinies within the purview of these control attributes—thus, for instance, naming the animals (= decreeing the destinies?). Humanity is given a subordinate ruling responsibility, similar to the position delegated to the lower gods by the higher gods in Mesopotamia, a role that is eventually also delegated to kings. Thus, Genesis 1 bequeaths to humanity a dignity that is not attested in the rest of the ancient Near East. In Genesis, God is outside the cosmos, not inside or a part of it, and he has no origin. He is responsible for the origin of all the governing principles. Human beings are positioned as rulers in the cosmos, with all of the functions of the cosmos organized on their behalf. (Emphasis mine)[4]

Genesis demythologises the natural world, raises the dignity of humans from slave labour to the very image of God and places the creator outside the natural world. For the ancient Hebrews, the significance of this cannot be overestimated. A crude obsession with material origins completely misses this point.


Editor's Note: I have deleted the first line of Ken's conclusion because it contained so many typos that it was impossible to work out what he was saying. Will Ken please let me know when he fixes the problem so that I can restore the first sentence.

Evolutionary Creationism is the best way to read the creation narratives. Genesis makes no substantive references to material origins, which means that any attempt to reconcile the creation narratives with the natural world (literalism or strong concordism) is missing the point. Rather, the creation narratives:

  1. Describe the origin of functions such as time, weather and agriculture
  2. Are a polemic against ANE cosmology
Of significance is that this completely decouples the narratives from scientific accounts of the origin of the universe, which means that one’s views on the origin of the universe and how the diversity of life does not affect one’s theology of creation.

The question of the literality of Adam is a separate, but related issue. Certainly, comparative genomics and palaeoanthropology completely rule out the possibility of Adam and Eve being the sole ancestors of the human race given the lack of a sharp genetic bottleneck as one would expect from recent universal human descent from two people. However, a sensitive reading of Genesis 4 implies the existence of humans other than Adam, Eve and Cain. Certainly, the text never bothers to explain the origin of Cain’s wife and those whom he feared would kill him. Claims that these people are unnamed children of Adam and Eve represent a decidedly forced reading of the text. Therefore one can affirm a historical kernel to Gen 2-4 with Adam and Eve being the first people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship, rather than the literal ancestors of the human race.

[1] Walton J “Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” (2011: Eisenbrauns) p, 8.
[2] ibid, 119–120.
[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ge 2:4–7.
[4] Walton. op cit, 177–178.

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