Ask the Pastor . . . About Evolution

A diorama at the Creation Museum in Kentucky

Last week I had two conversations that included the phrase, “I’ve just got to ask you about . . . “.  I was honestly tickled to know that my pastoral perspective is such a hot commodity.

So I’ve decided to include some “Ask the Pastor” posts on this blog. Every once in awhile I will address a topic that someone has specifically asked me about. If you would like to “ask the pastor” about something, please post a comment. And as always, feel free to post your thoughts on the given topic–many of you are pastors too!

One of the “I’ve just got to ask you about” conversations from last week had to do with evolution. “How do you reconcile Genesis with the scientific information about geological age and evolution?”

Now, I am not a scientist, so I won’t argue the merits of various scientific perspectives or evolutionary theories. What I am is a literary scholar in general, and a biblical scholar in particular. And my short answer to the evolution question is that Genesis is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a scientific text.

There are two creation stories in Genesis, each presenting the creation of the earth and its inhabitants in quite different ways. As one example, Genesis 1:27 indicates that on the sixth day, God created humankind in the Divine image–male and female, God created them. Then in Genesis 2:6-22 we read that God formed Adam out of the dust; then God planted the Garden of Eden; then God brought all of the animals to Adam, looking for a “suitable helper;” and finally God caused Adam to sleep and formed Eve using one of Adam’s ribs.

These stories cannot both be literal fact, and my contention is that neither of them are fact. But both stories, I would argue, hold theological truth. The truth that God is the life-force in all of creation; the truth that God is intimately connected to this creation; the truth that humanity bears responsibility for other forms of life on the planet.

There is much truth in the first two chapters of Genesis. But it is not scientific truth. Genesis is not the book to read if you want to know how old the earth is or by what cellular mechanisms various plants and animals came to be. Genesis was never intended to answer the how questions of creation.

The creation stories in Genesis were intended to answer the why questions of creation; the who questions of creation. And in addressing the why and the who questions related to human origins, perhaps Genesis does lead us to explore a very important how question: How then shall we live together on this amazing and fragile planet that we call home?

How then shall we live? That is the concern of the biblical writers of Genesis–among other books. That is the question addressed so often by Jesus during his ministry. That is the question Christians today should spend our time and energy to study, discuss, and live out.

[Here is a wonderful article exploring the poetry of the Genesis creation story.]

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2 thoughts on “Ask the Pastor . . . About Evolution

  1. I stumbled this, because it’s time that we moderate Christians (who are in the majority) started speaking up. We need to shout from the rooftops that there is a way of reading the bible that does not mean taking it literally, nor yet labelling the whole thing a pack of lies!

    • Thanks Ruth, I agree, obviously. This question came from someone who is not a Christian. And it seems that completely irrational claims by the most vocal “Christians” are a large part of why he does not identify himself with the faith.

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