Monday, March 19, 2007

What about evolution?

One of the great stumbling blocks for many who do not believe is the concept of evolution. That is, the idea that humans and all other life has evolved from an initial simple single cell life form which spontaneously came into being on earth millions of years ago. I will call this macro-evolution, it being agreed by most that minor adaptations due to environment are found in the world today (micro-evolution). There are a number of things to state which indicate that macro-evolution is of far less importance than some on both sides of the debate argue.

1. Macro-evolution is a faith not a fact. It is argued that macro-evolution is proven in many quarters. This is not the case. The lines of evolutionary descent drawn by proponents are unproven. While it looks coherent, at no point has evidence been given that proves the change. Hence when one considers the multiplicity of ‘supposed’ unproven changes required in macro-evolutionary theory it is a faith not a proven fact.

2. Macro-evolution is less believable than most religions. Most religions require one or so aspects to be true. So for Christianity to be true all that is required is for the Gospel account to be true and that Jesus rose from the dead. Macro-evolution requires an almost endless progression of minor unproven changes over many millennia. It is easier to believe in Christianity for many than macro-evolution in that it requires a smaller range of belief.

3. Macro-evolution still requires God. Were we to still maintain that macro-evolution has occurred still begs the ultimate questions. How did life form initially? Where did the earth come from? What caused the bang if indeed the big bang started off the universe? What caused life to evolve in its many forms and for the environment to be so perfect. Has there really been enough time for this complexity to form in such wonder? In addition, the order of the creation account coheres pretty well with the order in which macro-evolution adheres to. For me, it is possible then that God used an evolutionary process to create.

4. The process of creation is unclear. Christians are not all uniform in their understanding of creation. The creation accounts refer to pre-history and predate contemporary understandings of the world. It is feasible that they are more symbolic than some think and may not be literal. There are some aspects of the language that suggest this (e.g. the Hebrew for day can be a long period, the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day raising the question of the literal length of the days, and the language is full of symbolism). That being the case, we cannot be utterly certain of the process. This raises the possibility of macro-evolution. That being the case, the arguments concerning macro-evolution or no macro-evolution become a red herring. That is, either way we need God to make it work! So I suggest we should examine the life of Jesus to decide on Christianity or not.

5. A reasonable case can be made for a literal creation as per Gen 1-2. Creation scientists have and continue to demonstrate that there are real problems with macro-evolution theory. In addition they also argue and demonstrate the possibility that the accounts are to be taken seriously and that life as we know it was created in 6 days (or over 6 time periods).

6. Nothing in contemporary science requires macro-evolution. Many scientists will claim that evolution alone explains existence and such things as genetics. However, that is not the case. The existence of a creator who ordered his creation according to his preset scientific principles explains every finding of contemporary science. The understanding of bio-sciences are in fact the discovery of the hand of the creator.

7. The closeness of some animal species to humanity does not require macro-evolution. The similarities between primates and humans does not necessarily suggest a relationship. They can equally reveal the creativity of God seen across the whole range of flora and fauna. Arguing for a relationship actually blurs the immense differences in intelligence and spirituality between the limited primates and humanity. We are clearly different, intellectually superior and capable of spirituality. We are made in God’s image and they are not.

8. The problem of the limits of macro-evolution. I often ponder why evolution has reached where it has uniformly. Why have some humans not developed wings; they would be extremely helpful? Similarly why did we dispense with gills? Why do some of us not still have gills? When one goes down this track there are a huge range of questions that are raised! Macro-evolution would lead to a far greater evolutionary diversity among humanity that we currently have. Creation and the non-existence of macro-evolution makes much more sense.

9. Macro-Evolution depends on chance. It remains inconceivable to me that all that we see is a result of nothing becoming something, the nothing exploding into the universe as we see it, by some freakish chance water emerged and in one primordial pool an amoeba spontaneously burst forth into life and then evolved spontaneously into a billion life forms! Such a view is an absurdity without the hand of a creator. This leaves two realistic options, theistic evolution (God creating by evolutionary processes) or macro-evolution as a myth!

10. Macro-evolution is western European’s creation myth. All societies have a creation story and the macro-evolution story is in fact just a myth created by western European atheistic scientists. It has no more warrant than any other creation story.

11. Macro-evolution fails to answer the ultimate questions. Macro-evolutionary theory does not answer the ultimate questions of why? How did it begin?

12. The mode of creation should be worked outward from Jesus. Jesus rose from the dead demonstrating his claim to be the Son of God. As such all postulations on original creation must work backwards from this event. He supported the biblical accounts literally. As such I hold by faith to the view that the world was created either as per Genesis either in a literal 6-day 24 hour period or in a 6 unspecified length periods. Both these views are consistent with the possibilities of Gen 1-2. Beyond that, who knows????

Friday, March 9, 2007

Isn't Christianity Sexist?

One of the problems some people have with Christianity is its apparent prejudice against women in its writings and history. Now where the latter is concerned, there is no doubt that Christianity as in many cases in its history, been oppressive to women. This sorrows me and on behalf of all Christians, I acknowledge this and seek forgiveness. As in the case of Christian involvement in violence and war, this is tragic and a distortion of the original intention of God concerning gender. Rather, I believe that the bible if understood correctly, promotes equality and complementarity while retaining gender distinctiveness.

This is seen in the clear patriarchal bias of the OT (see Gen 2:20; 3:16) and in certain key texts which appear to promote the leadership of the male in the marriage and home and in the church (see esp. 1 Cor 11:1-16; 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-15; Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1-6). However to me, while it appears that Christianity is biased in this way in its writings, closer examination suggests no such bias. Here are some ideas in this direction:
1. The concept of woman as man’s helper in Gen 2:20 should not be understood as authoritative as God is also Israel’s helper in the OT implying that subordination is not necessarily in mind here (e.g. Exod 18:4; Ps 121:2). If subordination is read into the word, then God is subordinate to Israel which is out of the question.
2. The contention and dominance of men over women apparently referred to in Gen 3:16 is not God's ideal but the consequence of sin and caused by the Fall i.e. it is not God's intention. Both men and women are made in the image of God and on an equal footing before God (Gen 1:26-27). In the church this distortion caused by the fall of humanity is to be corrected.
3. The patriarchy of the OT law and life represents the patriarchy of the then world. It does not follow that such patriarchy should be universal for all of human history.
4. Jesus was highly positive toward women (Lk 8:1-2; 10:38-41; Jn 4:1-42; 8:1-12 etc.). He allowed them to be disciples as seen in the account of Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-41). They formed part of his travelling team (Lk 8:1-2).
5. The first witnesses to the resurrection were women (Mt 28:1-5) which is actually remarkable in that their testimony was considered worthless in the age.
6. There is no gender limitation in the spiritual gift lists i.e. all can be gifted in such a way (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12:1-31; Eph 4:11-12). Of particular note here is the gift of leadership in Rom 12:8 where Paul places no limitation of gender on this appeal to let those with the gift of leadership lead.
7. There is evidence of women involved in ministry in the early church (Acts 16:13-15; 18:26; Rom 16:1, 3-4, 6-7, 12; 1 Cor 1:11; 11:5; Phil 4:1-3; Col 4:15). These include Junia an apostle (the best reading of Rom 16:7), church hosts (e.g. Nympha in Col 4:15), teachers including Priscilla who taught alongside Aquila and is named ahead of him in many references indicating her priority (Acts 18:26), Euodia and Syntyche who were evangelistic co-workers of Paul in Philippi (Phil 4:1-3). These women worked in the service of God.
8. There is evidence that where the culture allowed women greater involvement, Paul adapted his approach to allow more involvement in the church (see the higher role of women in Macedonia cf. Acts 16:11-15; Phil 4:2-3). That is, Paul was flexible where culture is concerned in terms of the involvement and role of women (cf. 1 Cor 9:19-22).
9. Husbands are to love their wives with a sacrificial love involving giving up their lives in the manner of Christ (Eph 5:24). This suggests giving up power leading to mutual submission. The main imperative of the passage is ‘submit to one another’ (Eph 5:22). In addition the whole concept of headship does not necessarily imply authority but may indicate source in the sense of creation i.e. from man came woman, not implying authority.
10. There are clear indications of equality of all in the church in terms of race, gender and socio-economic class (Gal 3:28). This verse which tells us that in Christ there neither Jew nor Greek, male nore female, slave nor free; subverts the three great social divides in the ancient world. Paul is not wanting to remove cultural nor gender distinctives, he is speaking of a new order in which these old divides of oppression and dominance are now overthrown in the idea of community brought by God.
11. The injunctions in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 and 1 Timothy 2:9-11 probably should not be read a universal statements confinding the role of women but be read as injunctions to women in these particular situations who were causing contention. In the 1 Cor 14 context Paul has already allowed women to pray and prophesy in 1 Cor 11:5-7 and so here is probably seeking to quieten down those involved in the chaotic tongues and prophetic babbling of the Corinthian church. Similarly in 1 Tim 2, the women appear to be involved in the problem of false teaching which besets the Ephesian church and the injunction is targeting those who are involved. Hence, Gal 3:28 above sets the agenda for equality, but these injunctions are situational responses to problems.
12. Whether or not Paul held a patriarchal view, it is not stated whether these are to be applied in all cultures and in all times (see note 8 above). In fact indications in Paul are there that he advocated freedom where non-salvation matters are concerned. In 1 Cor 9:19-22 Paul speaks of adapting his lifestyle when among people of different ethnicities and persuasions in order to not put any obstacle in their way toward knowing Christ. Where gender then is concerned, I believe Paul today in our world, would advocate for mutual servanthood and submission and equality of opportunity in that this culture is framed in such a way.

I believe then that there is no real qualification on the involvement of women in church leadership. Indeed, where a culture is positive to the role of women as I suggest above, Paul and others would have argued for their involvement (cf. western European culture). On the other hand in cultures where women were subordinate he may have advocated a lesser role. That being said, Paul was not happy with the status quo as seen in Gal 3:28. In terms of practicalities, I believe in this complex age the church needs male and female leaders in equal measure to ensure effective pastoral care. In terms of life in the home I believe that a close reading of Eph 5:22f in particular suggests mutual submission rather than the headship of the husband in an authoritative sense. My own observation of good marriages suggests that in good marriages the husband and wife work as a team without any sense of domination, whatever view of marriage is taken. I conclude that on the basis of sexism, no one should write off the Christian faith. However, I admit we as a Christian people have a long way to go to truly reflect the freedom that is in Christ and for this we must continue to labour.