Aug 1, 2017

On Evolution and how not to read the Bible

I am a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory, both the TV show and the actual theory. On the TV show Dr. Sheldon Cooper is a theoretical physicist who at times has to deal with his Bible-thumping mother from Texas. Sheldon’s mom represents a character that only exists in pockets of American society that in many ways disconnect from contemporary discourse. No, creationism, young Earth theory, intelligent design or whatever name people may give their brainchild is not based on Biblical theology or scientific reality.

As a theologian I am most interested in how people approach the Bible and I guess that is really at the core of the creationism debate. Let me be clear: The Bible is not a handbook! It does not tell you how to live your life. It does not tell you how the world came to be and it most certainly does not replace scientific research and study. When you want to find out how the universe came to be, you should ask Dr. Sheldon Cooper and not his mother.

Let’s start in the beginning: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” (Genesis 1:1 NRSV). Of course, children take this literally and I cannot blame them. I did as an eight-year-old. I also had a He-Man action figure that could literally fly. The story of the seven days of creation to a child may well be about how the world came to be. But as critical thinking evolves in our brains it should be the latest in adolescence that we leave our childish thinking behind, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NRSV).

Hopefully our youth get a decent Christian education that enlightens them that the Bible is not one book but rather a library of all kinds of literary products that has evolved over 1,000 years in three different languages on two different continents. The seven day narrative at the beginning was written by priests during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. The narrative has a very clear purpose: Its climax is to set aside the seventh day as a Sabbath to God. Or in modern English: Pastors are telling their flock to go to church on Sunday.

Priests are really good at doing religious stuff. Scientists are really good and doing scientific stuff. They can talk to each and find differences and similarities in their respective fields. After all modern science is a brainchild of middle age scholasticism. But the truth is that God wants us to be experts in our field and respect other experts in their fields, “Let every man abide in the same vocation wherein he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20 GNV). An argumentative shortcut does not do justice to either Biblical theology or scientific reality.

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