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Christian Fundamentalists are Right about Genesis 1-3

“I think that if the data is overwhelming in favor, in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that’s not really interacting with the real world. . . . And to deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death if we stopped loving God with all of our minds and thinking about it, I think it’s our spiritual death. It’s also our spiritual death in witness to the world that we’re not credible, that we are bigoted, we have a blind faith and this is what we’re accused of. . . . And I think it is essential to us or we’ll end up like some small sect somewhere that retained a certain dress or a certain language. And they end up so . . . marginalized, totally marginalized, and I think that would be a great tragedy for the church, for us to become marginalized in that way.”

— Christian Hebrew scholar Bruce Waltke.

Several years ago, Cameron Buettel, a student at The Master’s Seminary, — a Fundamentalist institution established by John MacArthur — recently wrote an article on the Grace to You website about the importance of believing in a literal, six-day creation. Here’s what he had to say:

Most of us are familiar with politicians who obfuscate simple questions with complex political answers. Who can forget Bill Clinton’s “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”? Unfortunately, obfuscation exists in the realm of theology as well. God may not be “a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33), but there are scores of biblical scholars, theologians, and pastors who insert plenty of it into the first few chapters of Genesis.

Evangelicalism abounds with theologians who don’t know what the meaning of the word “day” is. The Hebrew word for day, yom, appears more than two thousand times in the Old Testament and would attract virtually no debate were it not for six specific appearances in Genesis 1. But those six days of creation are now at loggerheads with modern scientific dating methods. Rather than stand firm on the biblical account, church leaders acquiesce to unprovable theories and confuse the clear and consistent biblical teaching on origins…

Buettel is correct when he says the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is at odds with modern scientific dating methods. The gap between the two is so vast that there is no possible way to reconcile the two viewpoints. Both could be wrong, but both cannot be right. If you accept that universe is about 14 billion years old, then the idea that God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days is false.

Later in the article, Buttel addresses the implications of the 6 days of creation being anything other than literal 24-hour days:

…There are only two ways to deny a six-day creation: ignore the text or reject the text. Scholars ignore the actual text by blinding themselves to the genre, grammar, and layout in order to insert their own. Skeptics simply reject the text as erroneous. Either way, the result is the same—a clear text becomes a confused text.

Some people like to dismiss this debate as a secondary issue, not directly related to the gospel. But it is clearly an issue that goes to the authority of Scripture. And furthermore, as MacArthur rightly points out, it has massive repercussions for the gospel:

“If Adam was not the literal ancestor of the entire human race, then the Bible’s explanation of how sin entered the world makes no sense. Moreover, if we didn’t fall in Adam, we cannot be redeemed in Christ, because Christ’s position as the Head of the redeemed race exactly parallels Adam’s position as the head of the fallen race: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:18–19). “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life–giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45; cf. 1 Timothy 2:13–14; Jude 14).

So in an important sense, everything Scripture says about our salvation through Jesus Christ hinges on the literal truth of what Genesis 1–3 teaches about Adam’s creation and fall. There is no more pivotal passage of Scripture.”

The opening chapters of Genesis are not up for debate, nor are they negotiable. The academic credibility of our faith is meaningless if we’re so quick to sacrifice the meaning of Scripture at the altar of public opinion. Better to be counted a fool for the sake of God’s Word than to be embraced for our willingness to compromise it.

Buettel and MacArthur are correct. There is no textual or theological warrant for making the six days of creation mean anything other than six literal, 24-hour days. The natural reading of the text demands that the word “day” = 24 hours. Revisionists, desperately trying to reconcile evolution with Genesis 1-3, need to stop with the intellectual and theological gymnastics. The text says what it says. There are no gaps, no alternative explanations.

The only question that remains is whether to accept or reject what Genesis 1-3 says. If a Christian goes with science and the universe being 14 billion years old, he must explain what he plans to do with Adam and Eve, their fall into sin, and how their non-existence affects the atonement of Jesus for humankind’s sin. Several years ago, biologist Jerry Coyne had this to say about Adam and Eve:

…The problem, as you’ll know if you’re a regular here, is that genetic data show clearly that the genes of modern humans do not descend from only two people (or eight, if you believe the Noah story) in the last few thousand years. Back-calculating from the genetic diversity seen in modern humans, and making conservative assumptions, evolutionary geneticists have shown that the human population could not have been smaller than about 12,250 individuals: 10,000 in Africa and 2,250 in the group of individuals that left Africa and whose descendants colonized the rest of the world.  There was a population “bottleneck,” but it was nowhere near two or eight people.

This shows that Adam and Eve were not the historical ancestors of all humanity. And of course that gives theology a problem: if the Primal Couple didn’t give rise to everyone, then whence our affliction with Adam and Eve’s Original Sin? That sin, which the pair incurred by disobeying God, is supposed to have been passed on to the descendants of Adam and Eve, i.e., all of us. And it’s that sin that Jesus supposedly came to Earth to expiate. But if Original Sin didn’t exist, and Adam and Eve were simply fictional metaphors, then Jesus died for a metaphor. That’s not good!

That doesn’t sit well with theologians, of course, who, if they accept the science (and most of the smarter ones have), must then explain the significance of Adam and Eve, and whether they really existed. I discuss this in the Albatross as well; suffice it to say here that there are several interpretations of Adam and Eve as both historical and metaphorical, many of them funny and none of them coming close to solving the problem of Original Sin and the coming of Jesus…

It’s the proverbial slippery slope. Abandoning a literal six-day creation results in abandoning a literal Adam and Eve. No Adam and Eve? No original sin. No original sin? No need for Jesus to die on the cross.

Fundamentalists are right on this one. So what’s a Christian to do? Simple — use the brain you say God gave you. Based on the available scientific evidence, is the universe 6,000 years old or 14 billion years old? Does evolution best explain the biological world, or does a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 explain it? If you answer 14 billion years and evolution, then a greater intellectual task awaits you: reconciling what you believe about sin, Jesus, and redemption with what you know about the universe.

I don’t think it can be done, though I admire and appreciate those who try. I know many liberal/progressive Christians want to embrace what science says about the universe while, at the same time, hanging onto the Bible and what it says about sin, Jesus, and redemption. From my perspective, this is a match made in intellectual hell, one that requires a good bit of cognitive dissonance.

It’s not up to me to tell people what to believe about God, but I do think Christians should be honest about the dilemma science poses for them. How is it possible to reconcile a 14 billion-year-old universe and evolution with what the Christian church has historically taught about creation, Adam and Eve, original sin, Jesus, and redemption?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    It’s interesting how people sort of put the cart before the horse, here. Yes, without Biblical creationism, without Adam and original sin, the whole Salvation thing falls apart. However, the thing is, the facts clearly show a 13+billion-year-old universe, a 4+billion-year-old earth which is part of a 2nd-generation or later star system, and the common descent of life. If the facts mean your theology doesn’t work, then it’s your theology that needs to change. Denying facts gets you nowhere. It just makes some branches of Christianity look like fools. (I’m looking at YOU Ken Ham:-)

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    the world wasn’t created in 6 days, that’s just for public relations. the bible says that we were created in the image of god. go to any college campus, and i think you’ll agree that the truth is god goofed-off for 6 days, and then pulled an all-nighter. 😉

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    It’s interesting that most scientists these days are atheists and, unlike Jerry Coyne, don’t give much thought to theology and to the bible. Most serious theologians (academics like Bart Ehrman and Francesca Stavrakopoulou) are atheists because they do think about theology and the bible.

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    I don’t know how someone can close their eyes to facts, reality and proof. I once told a friend there is more evidence for the Big Bang (or variant) existing NOW, with the cosmic microwave background, than for Creation. That was the last time we talked about the Bible.

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    Progressive liberal Christians don’t seem to care about the literalism – they just ignore it all and accept the 6 day creation story as a way to describe that humans aren’t perfect. Of course, a lot of them are universalists so they don’t need to contort themselves into holding onto literalism.

    I have never felt so unintelligent as when I had to believe biblical literalism.

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    A great deal has been made about how the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day, so how can it be used to measure those days? We can simply never know, so I don’t worry about it. These people who make such a great big deal out of it, and spin all these elaborate arguments, perplex me.

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    Good gravy. I remember being admonished to ALWAYS take the Bible literally, and that to “believe in” science was folly. The only folly science brings is to the pocket of the preacher. Parents who teach creation as fact doom their children to rejecting reason and science OR feeling bad for scientific literacy.

  8. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I’m gonna slap you up the side of the head because its good for you: Whack! It hurts? Well, good and now I’m gonna do it again so you remember how much I care for you! Whack! God doesn’t fool around. If HE said six days, well, it was six days. How clear can it be and how stupid can you be? Whack! Git into line you worm. Stop crucifying Jesus!

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    Growing up Catholic, I learned about science from a bunch of liberal nuns back in the late 1960s/early 1970s, who were NOT going to teach BS, and if reality conflicted with the Bible, then that was a problem for Church theologians to figure out. My teachers’ jobs were to prepare a bunch of students for the real world in which they would go forth and treat people the way Jesus said to. Genesis 1-3 were obviously metaphors, and the theological issues raised when you believe that were above their pay grade.

    At home, we simply didn’t talk about the Bible. My mother, stuck with a poor high school education affected by abuse at home, believed that there was no point in uneducated people like herself reading it. My dad, technically Lutheran, felt that if you had your values right (in line with Jesus’ teachings) you were good. My parents were mostly on the same page about right and wrong behavior, so I wasn’t getting mixed messages at home. Catholic churches are liturgical, with a calendar established by Rome, so the general topic of the week was established and the priest would spend 15 or 20 minutes how the Bible readings of the day ought to direct our lives. I suspect these guys were trained in what talking points NOT to pursue.

    As far as I know, I was the first person in my family to really dig into the Bible, out of curiosity. It was eye-opening, and for a long time I didn’t process it, because a lot of it went against the values I had learned. It was only after I started to embrace the idea that the Bible was a document created by men for the purposes of men, that I could go back and read parts of the Old Testament and some of Paul’s (or pseudo-Paul’s) letters.

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    to deny that reality will make us a cult, some odd group that’s not really interacting with the real world

    For Christianity, that horse left the barn the day Galileo was forced to recant.

    The solution to this “dilemma” is perfectly simple. If evolution, geology, and cosmology describe reality — and they do — then Genesis is just a set of myths with no more connection to reality than the myths of Zeus or Odin.

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    If you believe death entered the world due to original sin you have to completely ignore the fossil record and the reality of countless dinosaur deaths millions of years ago. Enter nuts like Ken Ham who insist that dinosaurs existed along with Adam and Eve. The mental gymnastics and denial of reality among fundamentalists must be exhausting

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    I don’t think this can be done either, and it’s the crux of things. I’ve heard that John Piper thinks that Genesis refers to an Eden in a small part of the world (somewhere in the middle east, a special garden in the world if you will). This combined with the gap theory of gen 1:1 to 1:2 to account for the age of the universe… possibly…

    But what about humans outwith this genesis bubble? Were they biologically like humans but just animals, without the breath of life with a spirit?

    This is the best I have managed to come up with to piece it all together. Not that I think it’s right, but it’s either this or Adam is a metaphor for mankind.

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