The question of origins has far-reaching impact on things less theoretical. In fact, some things happening in our culture, things that cause us some level of consternation, are influenced far upstream by the question of man’s creation and purpose. Compare it to the way we look at some legal and policy decisions in our country—the debate often includes the founders of our country, their intent, motivation and even their view of truth. The specifics of our culture today would be different if we’d been founded by a different sort of men.
Consider a few important things deeply impacted by our assumptions about the events described in the first chapters of Genesis:
Theology—The Bible tells us that we can discern some things about God’s nature from what has been made. Prominent skeptics are quick to point out that the majority view of origins, their own views, paint the Judeo-Christian God in a very negative light. Carl Sagan, whose popular “Cosmos” series described a universe unrooted in purpose or meaning, criticized God as a “sloppy manufacturer” who would be “out of business if there was any competition.” Of course if one looks at the fossil record as preceding the fall of man he sees a record of disease and death during the time when God called creation “good.” Another scientist described God as indifferent and capricious after viewing the fossil record. Certainly, some God-honoring folks do believe the earth is very old but the evidence of death before the fall is a sticky thing for them to explain.
An understanding of origins that begins mankind with a larger population of evolving apes also throws a theological monkey wrench into our view of sin and salvation. If instead of a literal fall based on the rebellion of the first couple we have beasts who become self-aware and later morally aware, why couldn’t they continue to evolve or learn toward goodness as some believe? If a population of Adams didn’t exactly fall but rather become aware of their incomplete moral development, what is the second Adam of Romans 5?
Biblical Authority—This, like so many things, does come down to the question of God’s revelation of himself. Is the Bible true or not? What is written in the first 11 chapters of Genesis has often been called into question because the significant events there conflict with a materialist view of the world. Let me emphasize that—there is no reason to dismiss 11 chapters of Genesis that could not be applied to any portion of the Bible. The anti-supernatural bias of skeptics drives their textual or scientific analysis.
If we doubt the truth of what is clearly presented as history in the Scripture we have no reason to believe the theology of it. Some say that God was not really trying to tell us that the world was covered with water but rather that he is the judge who purifies what is corrupt. OK, if the pretty precise language of Genesis 7 (Noah’s age, the length of the deluge, the time it took water to recede, the height of the water, etc.) is not a record of something that happened, then why should I believe the lesson behind the myth? If Jesus could not/did not multiply loaves and fishes to the amazement of his followers, why would they listen to him talk about being the “bread of heaven?” Why believe anything about a book that is largely false?
Consider also the history of biblical skepticism. Perhaps this more refers to the character of God but ask yourself who read the Scripture prior to the rise of Enlightenment thinking, which began to reinterpret the Bible according to scientific theories. Who has mostly read it since, academics or laypeople? If a person has to have an advanced degree to discern that God really didn’t mean that humanity began with one couple or that Jesus walked on top of the Sea of Galilee, did God intend to hide himself from the less sophisticated hundreds of millions who read it? That is unthinkable, absurd.
Anthropology—What is man? Many of us identify ourselves by where we’re from—our family, our hometown or even our alma mater. We think it tells people a little about us. Personally, such information roots us and is significant in how we understand ourselves. All humanity has a source and the various theories about how we came to be here have an impact on how we think of ourselves and others. If we were specially created by God, stamped with his image and tasked to continue his creative work, we have inherent value and should be treated accordingly by our neighbors. Man’s worth is not developed or self-attributed but is rather ascribed to us by the one who sovereignly declares things good and bad or valuable and worthless.
What if we’re not specially created by God? That’s easy to answer because those theories are built into so much of our cultural dialog. If man is simply a clever beast with opposable thumbs and higher intelligence, our worth is only relative. We are valuable until we discover a still more clever beast. Within humanity, we are more valuable than those who are less clever than ourselves or physically weaker. That’s bad news for older people, those dependent because of some physical condition and the unborn. Our worth in this prevalent scheme develops for the first half of our lives and wanes in some ways during the last half. The sweet spot apparently comes after puberty and before you begin to develop a paunch and high blood pressure. If God does not exist or matter, this makes sense to an increasing number of people. In reality this viewpoint attributes no inherent worth in any person. If we are the sons and daughters of random processes, our lives have no value except that which we bestow upon ourselves and can enforce upon others. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Where we see mercy, generosity or kindness apart from those who believe God, it is either his common grace or it is someone being influenced by beliefs he does not hold.
Of course we could also note how our beliefs about man’s origins affect business (Why be honest if no one’s watching?), law (Why be just?), biotech (Can human consciousness be uploaded to a hard drive and made immortal?), diplomacy (Does might make right?) and art (Is there meaning in life and how would we express it?). In all cases it matters what we assume about our beginnings. These discussions that I’ve just mentioned in passing go on around you. If you have a child in school or university, assumptions about the source and meaning of all things are front and center in that child’s days. You should assume that most of his education and all of his entertainments are based on the assumption that man came from nothing and is here for no reason. Do you know what your kids think about ultimate matters? Is it something you talk about around the table or in the car?
A big part of the answer is teaching our kids the Bible, at church and at home. If they leave home knowing what and why they believe they will be different than most church kids of the past 40 years. Children and young adults who are discipled before leaving home will not be knocked off their faith by the first challenge they face. Some of those well-taught and believing kids need to study physics and biology. They might never be respected by their less tolerant peers but they can study creation from a different starting point and be the influential professors for the next generation of inquiring minds. For the rest of us there are resources aplenty for those who want to know more about God’s revelation through nature. Note the resource box on page 9 of this issue. Read some of that material; place it in your church library or your youth department. Buy copies for your kids or grandkids. Help them know by your example that these foundational discussions of God’s work do matter and are worthy of our attention.