Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Conversing on Genesis 1

Right after the Genesis symposium this past weekend, I came down with a nasty cold, which prevented me from blogging much of a response. I'm feeling a little more coherent today (but not much), so I'll shoot off a few comments here and probably continue my reactions in followup posts.

As you might imagine (or maybe you've had the same thoughts), Bryan took some flak for hosting this conference. Some took the speaker roster as an official college endorsement of their positions (which it wasn't). Some felt the speakers were too biased in favor of promoting a non-literal Genesis 1, which if you think about it, doesn't make a lot of sense since having more young-age creationists would have just made for repetition of talks ("I take Genesis 1 as literal history," "So do I!" "So do I!"). Others were concerned that our students and maybe the public are just not discerning enough to be able to listen to differing views. I sympathize with that idea, but at the symposium, Bryan Institute director Daryl Charles made an important point. This question of Genesis is being debated in the public arena (e.g., in Christianity Today and on NPR), and if we are not part of that discussion, then what? We really need to be part of the discussion, and that means that we need to interact with those that we might disagree with. (I should add here that "being part of the discussion" does not include merely posting rebuttals on our personal blogs, especially blogs that don't allow reader comments. Ahem.)

I personally went into this with some trepidation. I was hopeful that the conversation would be respectful and "irenic," although I was a bit cynical on that note. I'm happy to say that everyone not only behaved themselves, but they really got along pretty well. I was also very interested to see how the science of evolution would influence the conversation, since there were only biblical scholars and no scientists. Not surprisingly, science reared its ugly head, and in some very predictable ways. Science is definitely a significant influence on the development of newer readings of Genesis, but it's definitely not the only influence.

Scientific arguments about evolution or the age of the earth were most prominent in the presentations of Todd Beall (the token "young-age creationist") and Tremper Longman (the token "theistic evolutionist"). I sort of expected it from Longman (I suppose that's my own bias showing through), but I didn't necessarily think that Beall needed to discuss it at all. Scientific arguments also figured prominently in the Saturday panel session on the historical Adam, where Longman and Jack Collins went on a long rabbit trail about genomics and Dennis Venema's paper.

To his credit, Longman seemed quite open to considering alternative science and challenged the audience to provide him with papers or books. To him, the text of Genesis truly does not address the mode of origins, so lots of scientific theories could be compatible with the text. So he didn't argue FOR evolution directly; he merely argued that it was compatible with Genesis, since Genesis doesn't say one way or the other how creation happened. That's an important distinction to make. Even though I don't agree that Genesis teaches nothing about the mode of creation.

I have to run to class now. Check back later for more thoughts, and if you're in the neighborhood, there will be several followup meetings on campus this week. Today at 5 pm, we'll be addressing these issues for students and faculty at journal club in Mercer 137. Tomorrow, a similar discussion will be held in the Spoede Lounge in the library at 5:30. I'll be at both. Stop by if you can.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.