Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Truth About Early Christian Views on Genesis and Creation

In the last couple hundred years or so, some Christians have begun arguing that Genesis is not really a historical narrative intended to give the best account possible of the history of the world from creation up to ancient Egypt, from which we have other records verifying dates and the passage of time. There are all manner of "theories" about how to pretend that Genesis all along was an allegory and compatible with a modern, supposedly scientific understanding of the beginning of the universe and the time that has passed since then. They are, of course, not primarily engaging with the text itself. They are primarily scientists first who go to the text attempting to reconcile it with their particular scientific understanding of the world, an understanding which did not exist until at least the 18th century and could never have had any influence whatsoever on the worldviews of the author of Genesis, or any of the Biblical authors at all. Yet some Christians insist upon imposing their modern views on an ancient document.

There are several ways in which they usually proceed. I'll briefly list some of them:

1.) The Day Age Theory - This theory states that the days in Genesis chapter one are actually ages that could be any length of time up to and including billions of years.

2.) The Gap Theory - This theory says that there is a several billion year gap between the first verse of Genesis one and the second verse.

3.) Two Creation Stories - Supposedly, the two different creation accounts in Genesis one and Genesis two contradict each other, and therefore we shouldn't believe either one...or something. 

4.) Genesis as Allegory - Under this view, Genesis, usually stated as chapters 1-11 only, is considered allegorical. The primary purpose of these chapters is theological in nature and the real historical narrative starts in chapter twelve with Abram.

I may deal with the first three, all inventions of the past couple hundred years or so, in more detail later on, but right now I would rather not spend a whole lot of time rehashing everything I've learned about this debate since I was a kid. I will, however, say that I have come to be interested in and to love science because of creation science.

In fifth grade, when my public school science class spent half the year making buttons and other trinkets out of construction paper and crayons (yes, crayons in a fifth grade science class) to sell at a fundraiser to save the wetlands or some such nonsense, I was learning about the greenhouse effect long before I'd ever heard of global warming because it was part of a creationist theory of the Flood. Thus, when the global warming debate came onto my radar, I already knew that water vapor, not carbon dioxide, was 95% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and any significant change in earth's climate due to the greenhouse effect would have to go through water vapor, not carbon dioxide, of all things, and I knew this because of my interest in creation science. I studied biochemistry in college because when I read Darwin's Black Box, given to me by my father, an M.D., I was fascinated by how the blood-clotting cascade and the eye works biochemically and wanted to learn more about it. So when people say that creationists are "anti-science" and that we want to stop scientific inquiry, my blood boils. I have learned far more, far more, about science because of my interest in creation science than from my formal education, which itself was largely inspired by the same interest. When my sorry excuse for a science class devolved into Arts and Crafts 101 "to save the wetlands", I was reading adult books on all sorts of wide-ranging scientific topics, watching debates on paleontology between evolutionists and creationists, and laughing when the natural history museum on my hometown university campus was finally forced to remove the ridiculous "artists' renderings" (the actual words on the exhibits, I remember them well) of various imaginary pre-human missing links like Nebraska Man, which was constructed entirely out of a single pig's tooth and debunked in the 1920s, and Piltdown Man, a skull constructed from an ape's jaw and a human skull, known to be a hoax since 1953, as well as a few sculptor's specials done exclusively for this particular exhibit. What an honor. This was the same museum I was referred to by a frothing-at-the-mouth atheist who refused when, as a student at said university, I offered to debate him and his entire atheist student group after receiving an email meant for their list containing materials useful for debating "IDiots", a common term of endearment for those such as myself. Atheists are not without their idols of wood, stone and plaster of paris, or perhaps paper mâché, or even the construction paper and crayons of my youth, or perhaps the worm-ridden banana peels leftover from my second grade science class on "garbology", a purportedly scientific field I have heard neither hide nor hair of ever since. The poor kid was lucky the idols had finally been removed by that time, or the conversation might have caused him a heart attack when the ridicule he dished out came back around. My family, far from being anti-science, took us to that museum all the time when my siblings and I were kids and loved to show us those exhibits. It forever implanted in my psyche that evolutionists are not value-free rational robots who only care about the truth. They understand and use propaganda, and they will lie, misrepresent the truth, and refuse to admit embarrassing errors for decades if they fear it will hurt their cause. They will persecute and destroy opponents even when they know they are wrong. Liberalism means nothing to them when their religion is being challenged. If it weren't for the efforts of creation scientists and later, intelligent design theorists, many of these embarrassing errors and outright hoaxes and frauds, like Ernst Haeckel's faked drawings of embryos, would have remained in textbooks to this day.

But since there are those who think that my scientific competence or lack thereof depends entirely upon my being a creationist or not, I consider it unlikely any discussion of creation science will make any difference to someone who has already decided that since I am not a "scientist", a group whose definition is conveniently left undefined, that I am stupid and cannot be trusted on scientific issues. I would, however, like to believe that these people would not distrust my ability to read.

So right now I'm only going to address one particular issue: what the early Church Fathers believed about Genesis. This is not an issue of immense importance to me, but it is one area in which the lies of theistic evolutionists can be easily demonstrated without dependence on technical arguments. Theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins flock like flies to a bug zapper to a single passage in Augustine to support their contention that the early church fathers did not believe Genesis to be a literal historical narrative. Having passed over the entirety of early church teaching on the subject by making a single reference, they argue that their view, that Genesis is really not a historical narrative at all, is actually the historical teaching of the Church and creation scientists are actually the upstarts who are misinterpreting the Bible. Augustine did allow that maybe, possibly, the days in Genesis 1 were not exactly twenty-four hour days, largely on the grounds that the "signs to mark seasons, days and years", meaning the sun, moon and stars, were not created until the fourth day, yet the days of creation obviously begin with the first day. At that point, theistic evolutionists declare that Augustine would have been perfectly fine with the Day Age theory and million or billion year long days of creation, as well as with the evolutionary creation story of molecules to man with no guidance whatsoever from God.

From here on out, I will let the early church fathers, starting with Augustine, do most of the talking. Keep in mind who is willing to do the research on this and report what they actually said and believed, and who is taking quotes out of context to twist their beliefs. Then, maybe, I could impose upon you to wonder whether or not they are capable of misrepresenting the scientific evidence in the same manner. I have to give credit to this book for providing me with many of these lengthy quotations. At least one of the editors, William Dembski, is an intelligent design theorist who accepts the old age of the universe, but also holds a Ph.D. in theology and an admirable degree of intellectual honesty, something I find sadly lacking in this debate. I have also provided links to the actual texts when I could find them, as well as the accepted date of publication.

"They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed."

St. Augustine, City of God, Book XII, chapter 10, "Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past", 426 A.D.

Augustine here is criticizing the view that the earth is "many thousands" of years old rather than the six thousands years he explicitly states the Bible teaches. He provides an example of an extreme outlier that he might possibly assign some credibility to which amounts to something less than twenty thousand years, although he ridicules it with relish. Compare this to the passage where he says that maybe the days in Genesis 1 might not be exactly twenty-four hours long, by which he clearly means maybe twenty-five, or twenty-three, or something like that, and I think it's pretty clear what Augustine believed about the age of the earth and the Genesis account. If you have read Genesis, you would know that the six thousand year figure doesn't come from Genesis 1 but rather from the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 and the recorded ages of the early Hebrew patriarchs which occur sporadically through the rest of the book. Here is a good article on Augustine and creation.

"And from the foundation of the world the whole time is thus traced, so far as its main epochs are concerned. From the creation of the world to the deluge were 2242 years. And from the deluge to the time when Abraham our forefather begat a son, 1036 years. And from Isaac, Abraham’s son, to the time when the people dwelt with Moses in the desert, 660 years. And from the death of Moses and the rule of Joshua the son of Nun, to the death of the patriarch David, 498 years. And from the death of David and the reign of Solomon to the sojourning of the people in the land of Babylon, 518 years 6 months 10 days. And from the government of Cyrus to the death of the Emperor Aurelius Verus, 744 years. All the years from the creation of the world amount to a total of 5698 years, and the odd months and days."

Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, Book III, Chapter XXVIII, Leading Chronological Epochs, ~180 A.D.

Not much I can add here, except that theistic evolutionist Francis Collins in The Language of God claims that the first Christian to ever take the Genesis genealogies literally and calculate the age of the earth from them was Bishop Ussher in the mid 17th century. I have to believe Collins is simply ignorant. Otherwise he is a bald-faced liar.

"After these statements, Celsus, from a secret desire to cast discredit upon the Mosaic account of the creation, which teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but very much under that, while concealing his wish, intimates his agreement with those who hold that the world is uncreated. For, maintaining that there have been, from all eternity, many conflagrations and many deluges, and that the flood which lately took place in the time of Deucalion is comparatively modern, he clearly demonstrates to those who are able to understand him, that, in his opinion, the world was uncreated. But let this assailant of the Christian faith tell us by what arguments he was compelled to accept [this]."

Origen, Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter XIX, 248 A.D.

Origen was another famous and authoritative early Christian source who clearly took this interpretation of Genesis for granted, considering it obvious that the only reason anyone would doubt this young age for the earth was because they wanted to "cast discredit" on Genesis. Origen also clearly supports the literal Biblical Flood and calls those who would question it "assailants of the faith".

"If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigations, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit: but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even those we must leave to God.

For it is fitting that He should excel all. For how stands the case, for instance, if we endeavour to explain the cause of the rising of the Nile? We may say a great deal, plausible or otherwise, on the subject; but what is true, sure, and incontrovertible regarding it, belongs only to God. Then, again, the dwelling-place of birds - of those, I mean, which come to us in spring, but fly away again on the approach of autumn - though it is a matter connected with this world, escapes our knowledge. What explanation, again, can we give of the flow and ebb of the ocean, although every one admits there must be a certain cause? Or what can we say as to the nature of those things which lie beyond it? What, moreover, can we say as to the formation of rain, lightning, thunder, gatherings of clouds, vapours, the bursting forth of winds, and such like things; of tell as to the storehouses of snow, hail, and other like things? [What do we know respecting] the conditions requisite for the preparation of clouds, or what is the real nature of the vapours in the sky? What as to the reason why the moon waxes and wanes, or what as to the cause of the difference of nature among various waters, metals, stones, and such like things? On all those points we may indeed say a great deal while we search into their causes, but God alone who made them can declare the truth regarding them."

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter XXVIII, Perfect Knowledge Cannot Be Attained in the Present Life: Many Questions Must Be Submissively Left in the Hands of God, Part 2,~180 A.D.

An interesting passage from Irenaeus clearly stating that when it comes to man's knowledge, even of those things which he can clearly observe in nature, comes into conflict with God's knowledge of the same, he would take God's knowledge, as contained within the inspired and revealed Word of God, the Bible, over any and all human knowledge available. This view is the only rational conclusion if one does believe in God and that the Bible is His inspired word. Irenaeus, significantly, calls the inspired word of God "perfect", putting the lie to the contention that early Christians did not believe in the infallibility of Scripture.

 "His own Word is both suitable and sufficient for the formation of all things, even as John, the disciple of the Lord, declares regarding Him: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." Now, among the "all things" our world must be embraced. It too, therefore, was made by His Word, as Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis that He made all things connected with our world by His Word. David also expresses the same truth: "For He spake, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created."

Whom, therefore, shall we believe as to the creation of the world - these heretics who have been mentioned that prate so foolishly and inconsistently on the subject, or the disciples of the Lord, and Moses, who was both a faithful servant of God and a prophet? He at first narrated the formation of the world in these words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," and all other things in succession: but neither gods nor angels.
 

Now, that this God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul the apostle also has declared, "There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and through all things, and in us all." I have indeed proved already that there is only one God; but I shall further demonstrate this from the apostles themselves, and from the discourses of the Lord. For what sort of conduct would it be, were we to forsake the utterances of the prophets, of the Lord, and of the apostles, that we might give heed to these persons, who speak not a word of sense?"

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter II, The World Was Not Formed by Angels, or by Any Other Being, Contrary to the Will of the Most High God, But Was Made by the Father Through the Word, Part 5, ~180 A.D.

Another interesting passage from Irenaeus on the authority of Scripture, this time specifically mentioning Genesis.

"For as is the potter and the clay (matter being the clay, and the artist the potter), so is God, the Framer of the world, and matter, which is subservient to Him for the purposes of His art. But as the clay cannot become vessels of itself without art, so neither did matter, which is capable of taking all forms, receive, apart from God the Framer, distinction and shape and order. And as we do not hold the pottery of more worth than him who made it, nor the vessels or glass and gold than him who wrought them; but if there is anything about them elegant in art we praise the artificer, and it is he who reaps the glory of the vessels: even so with matter an God - the glory and honour of the orderly arrangement of the world belongs of right not to matter, but to God, the Framer of matter. So that, if we were to regard the various forms of matter as gods, we should seem to be without any sense of the true God, because we should be putting the things which are dissoluble and perishable on a level with that which is eternal."

Athenogoras, A Plea for Christians, Chapter XV, The Christians Distinguish God from Matter, 177 A.D.

Athenogoras here is making something of an Aristotelian argument that the forms of matter come directly from the artistry of God, as a potter shapes the clay. Athenogoras would never have accepted the idea that God merely created the forms of matter, including biological forms, through what theistic evolutionists dishonestly term "secondary causes" like Darwinian evolution, all the while arguing that Darwinian evolution is somehow still random, as if that wasn't a complete contradiction. The imagery is as clear as the argument. God shaped the forms of matter directly and artificially. He is the artist who sculpted all of creation with His own hands.

"The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God...Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form...Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 91, Article 2, Whether the human body was immediately produced by God, ~1270 A.D.

A similar idea from an author who wrote a thousand years later. The doctrine of creation hasn't changed in one thousand years. Aquinas is a rich source from which to obtain knowledge of medieval Christian thought, and there is much more to be read on this issue from him if one is willing to understand these early Christians honestly, rather than use them to bash modern creationists over the head.

"But let us suppose that this also happened by chance; the circumstances which follow assuredly cannot be by chance - that the earth should at once flow with milk, and that the temperature of the atmosphere should be equable. And if these things plainly happened, that the newly born animals might have nourishment, or be free from danger, it must be that some one provided these things by some divine counsel. But who is able to make this provision except God?...

Therefore God, the Contriver of all things, made man. And even Cicero, though ignorant of the sacred writings, saw this, who in his treatise on the laws, in the first book, handed down the same thing as the prophets; and I add his words: 'This animal, foreseeing, sagacious, various, acute, gifted with memory, full of method and design, which we call man, was produced by the supreme Deity under remarkable circumstances; for this alone of so many kinds and natures of animals, partakes of judgment and reflection, when all other animals are destitute of them.' Do you see that the man, although far removed from the knowledge of the truth, yet, inasmuch as he held the image of wisdom, understood that man could not be produced except by God? 

But, however, there is need of divine testimony, lest that of man be insufficient. The Sibyl testifies that man is the work of God: 'He who is the only God being the invincible Creator, He Himself fixed the figure of the form of men, He Himself mixed the nature of all belonging to the generation of life.' The sacred writings contain statements to the same effect. Therefore God discharged the office of a true father. He Himself formed the body; He Himself infused the soul with which we breathe. Whatever we are, it is altogether His work."

Lactantius, The Divine Institutues, Book II, Chapter XII, That Animals Were Not Produced Spontaneously, But by a Divine Arrangement, of Which God Would Have Given Us the Knowledge, If It Were Advantageous for Us to Know It, ~310 A.D.

Move over Louis Pasteur! Lactantius beat you to the punch on spontaneous generation by a thousand years. Lactantius is specifically ridiculing the chance hypothesis of creation, arguing that God must have created not just the soul of men, but also their form. He quotes the Roman Cicero, who even without the assistance of Genesis, understood that man must have been created by God. Learned Christians in Lactantius' audience would have recognized the Biblical support for his argument from Romans 1.

 "Now, eighteen months after the first light, three months after the true day, but a very few days after the pure Sun of that most wonderful study began to shine, nothing restrains me; it is my pleasure to taunt mortal men with the candid acknowledgment that I am stealing the golden vessels of the Egyptians to build a tabernacle to my God from them, far, far away from the boundaries of Egypt. If you forgive me, I shall rejoice; if you are enraged with me, I shall bear it. See, I cast the die, and I write the book. Whether it is to be read by the people of the present or of the future makes no difference: let it await its reader for a hundred years, if God Himself has stood ready for six thousand years for one to study Him."

Johannes Kepler, Book V, The Harmony of the World, 1619 A.D.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite scientist, Johannes Kepler, who discovered the three laws of planetary motion which Isaac Newton later showed were consistent with his new theory of gravity in probably the most important unifying theory in the history of physics. Kepler and Galileo are the two fathers of the Scientific Revolution, but it was Kepler who foreshadowed Newton and the advent of modern physics and finally moved Christendom away from the geocentric view of the universe inherited, not from the Bible as the atheists insist, liars and deceivers that they are, but from Ptolemy (hence the Biblical allusion to Egypt) and Aristotle. It was Kepler who labored under Tycho Brahe, a man who compiled the best astronomical data available at the time but failed to interpret it accurately because of his Aristotelian philosophical views which required the earth to be at the center of the solar system. Brahe was extremely jealous of his data and refused to allow most to see all of it, even Kepler who was his understudy. Kepler only gained access to all of the data after Brahe died in a freak occurrence probably involving a burst bladder from drinking too much and refusing to violate decorum by leaving the table to take a much needed leak, which happened anyway in a much more painful manner than God intended. After Kepler inherited the excellent observational data from Brahe, he finished it and used it to arrive at an elliptical, heliocentric model of the universe which began the Scientific Revolution. Famously, Kepler initially did not try elliptical orbits because he assumed, falsely, that surely someone must have already tried something so simple and found that it didn't work. Kepler's words here would not have seemed like hyperbole when he wrote them. He was in a fight to the death with a non-Biblical, non-Christian point of view that had taken over the Christian world almost completely and held it hostage for over a thousand years. The Ptolemaic model and the Aristotelian worldview which bolstered it were a towering monolith that dominated the Academy of Kepler's day. There is no comparison between that and the one hundred and fifty years of Darwinian evolution. Christians should note that scientific revolutions can and do occur after even a thousand years of a theory's dominance. The question is never settled, and it will never go away, however much anyone might like. Scientists are and will continue to be curious folk, forever in search of better understandings of the world, an understanding never written in stone, a quality belonging only to the inspired Word of God, which has lasted for thousands of years and will last thousands more, or even billions, if it ever, indeed, comes to that.

Now that's whack.