June 6, 2007

Edwards on Evolution

Just because a Democrat says it, doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.

There are ongoing debates among the Presidential candidates; so far it has been the Democrats and the Republicans separately, among themselves. As the field winnows down the two parties will debate each other and any viable third-party candidates. In the wake of those debates some short interviews have appeared as video on CNN.com and other news sites. CNN.com hosted an exchange between reporter Soledad O'Brien and North Carolina Senator John Edwards (Democrat) on the topic of evolution. With great difficulty I have transcribed the conversation from the video feed, just one of the public services we provide to you here at FunMurphys.com.

Soledad O'Brien: There was quite a little dust-up that the Republicans had in their debate over the question of evolution. So I'll put the same question to you. Do you believe in evolution or do you believe in creationism?

John Edwards: I believe in evolution.

O'Brien: What do you say to all the people - and there are millions of people - who go to church every Sunday, and who are told very clearly by their pastors, that in fact - the earth was created in six days that - that it's about creationism. Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?

Edwards: First of all, I grew up in the church, and - I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young - teenager at the time - and I was taught many of the same things. And I think it's perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system, consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there, and scientific evidence of evolution. I don't think those things are inconsistent. And I think that a belief in God, and a belief in Christ in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.

O'Brien: There are people who say, well it's actually - isn't it mutually exclusive? I mean, either man was created by, you know, Adam's rib, or in fact, that man came, evolution-wise, from apes. Aren't the two mutually exclusive?

Edwards: No, I don't think they are. Because the hand of God was in every step of what's happened with man. The hand of God today is in every step of what happens with me, and every human being that exists on this planet.

Transcribed from CNN.com: June 5, 2007.

I like the answer that John Edwards gave. Despite being limited to only a few seconds, he gave a coherent answer affirming that God can and does work His will through processes that we can investigate using the scientific method. Edwards could have elaborated further on how he came to that belief, how he understands the accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, but in a forum like this he has to sum it all up in a few sentences. He politely and firmly rejected the false choice that Soledad O'Brien presented; that one has to choose between either creation by God or biological descent from apes. Nicely done, John!

Soledad O'Brien made two major mistakes in the short exchange. The first mistake was her apparent ignorance of the fact that there are other millions of people who believe in God and accept the scientific theory of evolution. For example, on April 6, 2007 Dr. Francis Collins recently published a commentary on CNN.com entitled "Why this scientist believes in God":

http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/03/collins.commentary/index.html

Collins is the director of the Human Genome Project. He believes in Jesus Christ and in evolution, and his head does not explode. There are many others, and it's odd that O'Brien seems to be unaware of them. Maybe she's simply doing her job as a journalist by asking provocative questions.

O'Brien's second mistake was in asserting that man was created from Adam' rib. According to Genesis 2:21-23, it was Eve alone who was created from Adam's rib. Adam and all the animals in Genesis 2 were created from dirt, from the "dust of the ground" if you prefer the poetic phrasing. O'Brien's garbled statement of creationism there can only be attributed to confusion within young-earth creationism itself; Genesis 1 states in verses 11, 20, and 24 that the earth produced life in response to God's spoken command; the plain reading of Genesis 2:7 implies that God collected a lump of clay in His hands, formed it into the shape of a bipedal hominid, and breathed into the mouth opening. The original clay was then transformed miraculously into Adam's heart, lungs, liver, bones, muscles, and so on. So which is it - indirect creation by the earth at God's command, or direct creation by animating clay? O'Brien evidently did not know.

The account in Genesis 1 is consistent with a theistic understanding of evolution, and with Edwards' final statement. God directs "natural" processes in ways that we do not understand. More creation detail is given in Genesis 2, but the ultimate source of living material is dirt, and that is also what the theory of evolution states. Sure, it would have saved lots of confusion if Genesis had mentioned a few intermediate steps between the "soupy seas" and human beings. It would have save lots of confusion if Genesis had stated that the earth is a sphere, and that it orbits around the sun. I believe the Author of Genesis has concentrated on the spiritual message, and has let us figure out the scientific details later.

O'Brien mentioned the six days of creation, from Genesis 1. Although young-earth creationists insist that that the Hebrew word "yom" must be interpreted as a 24-hour day, that meaning is not the only meaning in either ancient Hebrew or modern English. Genesis 2:4 uses "yom" to refer to the entire creation week. Modern people who say "Back in my day..." are not referring to a single 24-hour day. The sun does not even appear to mark the "days" until day 4 (Genesis 1:14); is there some angel carefully marking the cosmic time to be sure that God's marvelous acts of creation do not overlap 24 earth hours? (No!) Furthermore, the six "days" of creation, so important in Genesis 1, are not even mentioned in Genesis 2 after verse 3. If the "days" of Genesis 1 are so important, then why doesn't Gensis 2 state that most of it happened on day 6? There is no Biblical requirement for the "yoms" in Genesis 1 to be strictly 24-hour days.

Soledad O'Brien was quite correct in asserting that some Christian pastors are teaching quite clearly that the earth was created in 6 24-hour days; or much worse, that belief in creationISM is a requirement of Christianity. One of those pastors is Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In the August 15, 2005 issue of TIME Magazine he stated on page 35, "For one thing, there's the issue of human 'descent'. Evangelicals must absolutely affirm the special creation of humans in God's image, with no physical evolution from any nonhuman species." (And don't bother quibbling about the term "Evangelicals"; he obviously means the right kind of Christians. On today's blog he further states: "To be human is to be a limited creature -- and Christians understand that those limitations are not the accidental byproducts of evolution. To the contrary, these limitations represent the intentional will of the Creator.")

Christianity is defined by the Bible, not by extra-biblical pronouncements from theologians. John 3:16 states the formula for salvation: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Romans 10:9 further states: "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." It's a lot about Jesus and nothing about biology!

Attempting to change the definition of the Christian faith is a grave sin. God anticipated this situation 1,900 years ago, when He directed St. Paul to write in Galations 1:6-9: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospeló which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" NIV

Dr. Mohler is wrong, and so is any other pastor or priest who tries to make rejection of evolution a requirement of the Christian faith. It's not all about creationism. It's all about Jesus! Jesus Christ the Son of God, crucified for our sins and miraculously risen from the dead. That's what John 3:16 says. That is the Christian Gospel.

Posted by Carl Drews at June 6, 2007 1:15 PM | Faith