Poythress, Science, and the Bible

What are we to think of the debate on Adam? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend of Deeper Waters recently sent me an article wanting a response. It’s written by Vern Poythress and can be found here. My problem mainly with how to approach this is that I am not a scientist. I do not speak in scientific terms and if I have no reason to think that someone has not done strong scientific study, I question their statements. Theologians, philosophers, and historians who wish to speak on science as science should study science as science.

Unfortunately, those in the other camp don’t often follow that advice as well. Atheists who are authorities on science seem to think they’re automatically authorities on history, philosophy, theology, morality, etc. They could be if they have also done sufficient background study, but all too often, they have not.

So let’s deal with some concerns.

First off, what about evolution? Here’s my response. I don’t care.

“What? Did I read that right?”

Yes. Yes you did. Christianity relies on the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead. Everything else is secondary. If we can establish God raised Jesus from the dead, then it would not matter if we are here due to a long evolutionary process. It might mean we have to change our understanding of Genesis, (and quite frankly, even if evolution is false, I think we need to change it) but we still have Christianity. Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection and not the creation.

What about Adam? Recently in my reading of Genesis, I noticed something. I cannot recall God naming the man Adam. The word simply means, according to what I’ve studied, man. So many times in the text is says “The man.” It seems quite likely that a man showed up at one point, however that came about, that we are all descended from. Personally, I lean more towards God acting in a divine way to make man, but if I am wrong, it will not shipwreck Christianity at all.

Part of the problem with the emphasis on creation is that we have this idea that if God did not create the way we think He did, then He is inactive in the universe. If God is not active, then we could be deists, but if He did not even create, then we might as well be atheists or agnostics. I find this idea problematic right at the start since it has this implicit idea that God’s chief activity is creation.

Creating, as it is, is nothing essential to the nature of God. God could be God even if He never created anything. What must God do? God must exist and what He does with that existence is up to Him. He has chosen to create, but the property of existence is the main feature of God.

Picture stepping outside your door and seeing a huge pile of money one day and your thought could be “What brought that about?” In other words, “What is the cause of the existence of what I see before me?” Now picture stepping outside and instead hearing a strange sound that isn’t ending and asking “What is the cause of this sound?” In this case, you are not likely looking for what brought it into being, but also what is keeping that sound going.

The point to make is that the same can be said of the pile of money on the front porch as well. Does it contain within itself the principle of its own existence? The answer is no. Only God has that. God is the only one that must necessarily exist. Everything else exists by the power of God. That means that God’s work with the universe is not just creation, but sustenance.

“Well is that biblical?”

Yes. Profusely so.

1 Cor. 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Note that all things come from God and all things are through Jesus. The Godhead is sustaining our existence.

Col. 1:16-17 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Note in verse 17 that all things hold together in Him. God in Christ is sustaining all that is.

Hebrews 1:2-3 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high

The same pattern emerges again with Christ upholding the universe.

Job 34:14-15 If he should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust.

Again, if God removes His being, we cease to exist.

The study of existence is metaphysics and it cannot be touched by science. Science deals with a type of existence, namely material existence, but it cannot deal with existence as existence. Note also that each branch of science deals with a different type of material existence as well. None of this is to lower science, but it is to point out that it is not the supreme study.

What do we do with creation then? We could keep in mind what a writer like John Walton has said. For the ancients, something was not said to really exist until it was given function. The creation account is not creation as we understand it, but rather God giving purpose to things. Does this go against material ex nihilo creation? No. Walton tells us that Genesis is not asking the question about scientific creation because Genesis doesn’t care. Genesis cares about giving God glory through the temple of the cosmos He has created.

Does this mean I oppose scientific apologetics? Not entirely. It means that it should only be done by those skilled in science. If you don’t know scientific terminology, then don’t argue science. Now if only our atheist friends would follow the same pattern with Biblical studies, philosophy, history, etc.

If we are people of truth, then we must accept whatever is found to be true. We also must make sure that our modern thinking that is scientific is not the paradigm by which we read Scripture. We should seek to understand it the way the ancient reader would have understood it and not the way someone from our culture would.

If there is something we must not do, and we do it just as much as atheists do sadly, it is to make science and Christianity seem opposed negatively to each other. People of truth must accept all truth. If it turns out that evolution is true, we must accept it. If it turns out that it is not, we must accept it. If we wish to argue against evolution or any other scientific hypothesis, which the scientific community should welcome by the way, then we must do so scientifically. This is why you will not see me joining this argument. I am not a scientist. I will stick to my strengths and let others stick to theirs.

In conclusion, we must remember that creation is not the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. It is resurrection. It is quite concerning some Christians are better at defending their views on creation than they are on resurrection. We must also not limit God to just creation. God is responsible not just for the beginning, but every point in the timeline, including where we are right now.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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2 Responses to “Poythress, Science, and the Bible”

  1. LJ Says:

    This subject triggers thoughts of Christopher Hitchens.
    Many of his arguments on the surface seemed brilliant. However, during his debates versus Christianity, his eyes told a story. There was an emptiness and longing in his eyes. His eyes seemed to say he was a sad, lost, little boy. Those eyes were looking for a savior. Without a savior, our life is zilch, nil, naught, and nothing. It is empty. He was looking for love in all the wrong places.

  2. Paul Says:

    I agree that “the resurrection” is the central event of Christianity. Strictly speaking a (not THE) resurrection is even from a biblical viewpoint of limited significance. Therefore when unfolding what THE resurrection means, one cannot escape to defend that God is at the beginning of His creation. One also cannot escape to explain how sin entered and corrupted His creation. As various debates surrounding (theistic) evolution / creation-ex-nihilo have shown, these have not only a scientific aspect, but clearly a theological aspect as well. I therefore think creation is an essential doctrine, and as such it has been formulated in various creeds. Although one can argue about the (historic/scientific) details of creation, the creeds rightfully place bounds that a correct doctrine on creation must be part of orthodox Christianity.

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