Category Archives: evolution

Southgate on The Groaning of Creation

In his blog Anthony Smith discusses Christopher Southgate’s book The Groaning of Creation and raises several questions.

http://www.anthonysmith.me.uk/2018/01/04/the-groaning-of-creation-god-evolution-and-the-problem-of-evil/

Southgate like many Green Christians today puts much weight on Romans 8 vs19-22

The Groaning of Creation

Smith comments

 

The great turning point of history, for Southgate, between the evolutionary ‘groaning’ of creation and its eschatological hope, is the Cross of Christ. The Cross is ‘the moment of God’s taking ultimate responsibility for the pain of creation’ and, with the Resurrection, the Cross also serves ‘to inaugurate the transformation of creation’ (p. 16).

What, then, is the role of humanity? We are now able to participate with God, to a small extent, in the ‘healing of the evolutionary process’ (p. 16). God subjected the creation to the frustration of the evolutionary process, in hope that the creation’s groaning might bring humanity into existence, so that humanity, redeemed by Christ, might share with Christ in bringing about the liberation of the whole creation (see Romans 8:19-22). Considering the evolutionary process to have served its purpose, Southgate writes, ‘I regard this as the eschatological phase of history, in which humans should be looking to their own liberation and to the relief of creation’s groaning’ (p. 126).

What does this mean in practice? The example Southgate gives is the role humanity should seek to play in protecting species from extinction, whether that extinction would be through human actions, or by ‘natural’ causes. In this ‘penultimate’ phase of history, such actions would serve as a sign of the future hope for the whole creation.

This argument for the groaning of creation and its redemption in Romans 8 is commonly held today by Christians and may almost be the Green Orthodoxy.

Its validity turns on the translation from the Greek of Romans 8 vs 20 τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη, οὐχ ἑκοῦσα ἀλλὰ διὰ τὸν ὑποτάξαντα, ἐφ’ ἑλπίδι

and especially the first clause

τῇ γὰρ ματαιότητι ἡ κτίσις ὑπετάγη,

This is normally translated “For the creation was subject to vanity/futility”

Here lies the problem. The word for creation here is ktisis which can mean either the whole of the natural world or simply humanity.  The word translated vanity/futility is mataiotes, which, with cognates occurs 14 times in the New Testament and in every other instance refers to the flaws of humanity, with echoes back to the “vanity of vanities” of Ecclesiastes

now for Rom 8 vs22  οἴδαμεν γὰρ ὅτι πᾶσα ἡ κτίσις συστενάζει καὶ συνωδίνει ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν , which is in the NRSV “We know that the whole creation has bean groaning with labour pains until now” Now sustenazw means to groan together and sunwdinw normally means the suffering of childbirth. Again, the question is whether ktisis is humanity or the whole universe.

Almost all commentators today argue, or usually simply affirm without argument, that ktisis is the universe, but many scholars in the past argued that it was humanity, notably Lightfoot in the 1650s and William Buckland in 1838

Ulitmately translation of these verses turns on the meanings of ktisis, mataiotes and phthora (decay).

Southgates’s argument and possibly the whole book turns on ktisis being creation as universe. If this is not the case then his thesis fails. At best it is one of two possible translation, but it cannot be seen as THE ONLY translation. Thus we cannot say with him;

God subjected the creation to the frustration of the evolutionary process, in hope that the creation’s groaning might bring humanity into existence, so that humanity, redeemed by Christ, might share with Christ in bringing about the liberation of the whole creation (see Romans 8:19-22).

However much this reading of Romans 8 may chime in with environmental ideas today, it cannot be seen as an adequate dealing of the text and does not recognise the variety of ways in which key words in this passage are used.

Hence his book cannot be seen as an answer or solution to God, evolution and the problem of evil.

Here is my earlier blog which is being revised

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/mis-reading-romans-chapter-8/

 

 

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The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil | Anthony Smith

This is a blog by an ordinand at Cranmer Hall Durham, which exposes the issues of suffering , evolution and the Bible by considering Romans 8vs 19-22. This understanding is common among green Christians, but I have my reservations as in this older blog

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/mis-reading-romans-chapter-8/

 

 

I’m going to be engaging this term with Christopher Southgate’s wide-ranging book, The Groaning of Creation. Here I attempt to summarise the book.

Source: The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil | Anthony Smith

God’s Creation and the Environment

Why Belief in Creation is important

Not many decades ago the doctrine of creation was almost ignored within the churches , but today things have changed and creation is to the fore.
The first chapter of Genesis speaks of creation in six days. Some get bogged down and think that is what Christians actually believe.

Ancient-Hebrew-view-of-universe

But 1600 years ago St Augustine had got it right!

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Then in the Nicene Creed we say, “We believe in one God, …,maker of heaven and earth”. After four hundred years of modern science we need to accept the vast age of the earth and evolution.

Anything else is “alternative fact”.

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Our Christian faith does not tell us what our science should be, but rather how we should see the natural world, how to use it and recognise its originator.
So how should we treat the natural world? There has often been careless exploitation, resulting in gross pollution. At the other extreme some want hug every tree and view nature so mystically that they can scarcely use it. (But they do!)
Let’s put it under three heads;

1.Worship God as Creator.

We must always see that God is creator and that his Glory is seen in nature. Now we see it in frosts and bursting snowdrops. We need to develop this so we see the Creator both in the smallest things, like dew on a spider’s web, and in the awesome like mountains in snow. It is something we can do daily.

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These photos show some of the beauty of the British countryside and the ones below are from my garden and a churchyard

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There is always something to find, if you look

O all ye green things of the earth, bless ye the Lord

2 Use creation, i.e. the earth’s resources, wisely.

To live, we need food, materials whether grown or extracted, and, unless we wish to return to poverty, we use a lot. Our energy is from fossil fuels and will be for decades despite some claims. The metals we use are dug out of the ground, smelted and cause pollution. Farming takes over tracts of land thus reducing wilderness. Without these we would either starve or die young. This is something some Greens do not want to grasp.

However human activity does cause environmental dame as with this opencast coal mine and drainage of peat in the Pennines for grouse shooting which allows 10ft of peat to blow away and be a factor in floods. This old trig pillar was on a level with the peat 100 yrs ago but erosion meant it was 10 ft in the air. It was knocked over for safety

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I could discuss this at length, but we need to find a way of enabling all people to live comfortably, control pollution and environmental damage and , above all, find ways of restoring areas damaged by mining, industry or land usage. Today we can see the effects with loss of wildlife and biodiversity, increased flooding (in the river Wyre basin where I live, it may well be due to peat damage and tree loss rather than climate change), pollution from all sources and climate change.
The solution is global, governmental and personal. Personal actions are vital whether turning lights off, growing plants to attract wildlife and many other things.

3. Think of others.

We may live in a comfortable environment with greenspaces, wildlife and creature comforts, but many in our world do not. Parts of our cities lack green spaces and suffer from air pollution. Many parts of the world have dirty water, limited food and energy and are grossly polluted. The pollution of the Ganges is our concern as well. Do we care? and why should we care?

Part of this we see in the mandate of Genesis 1 vs 28, but this does not take environmental issues into consideration as that was not an issue in 1000BC. It is often interpreted so we should EXPLOIT, rather than CARE, for the earth. It is only in the last 30 years that churches have shown concern for the environment. Before that a minority of individuals did.

We need to start from the Creator and his Creation, and think of the first great commandment “You shall love the Lord your God…” Simplistically that means if we love God we will love what he has made, i.e. the whole of his creation.

And the Second is like”You shall love your neighbour as yourself” and that means we will want others to have their share of creation and not wreck it. Thus environmental concerns also stem from the second commandment.

Taking the two commandments together, we are obliged to love and care for the creation
To sum up, if we love God our Creator and love our neighbour we will also love God’s creation.

The third great commandment should be
“Thou shalt love God’s creation, because…….

 

I have deliberately left out dealing with particular green issues as my focus is on a Christian understanding of the creation and thus the environment. As soon as we get to specifics there is controversy. Part of that can be selective or biased information, a practice carried out both by environmentalists and others, epitomised by the tobacco lobby.

This is a very simple Christian case for environmentalism and will not please sophisticats, but I suggest it is better for most as a starting point.

Finally, no environmental understanding can be had without taking all scientific issues into consideration and so St Augustine’s strictures from 400AD still apply to us as we want to clean up and nurture our planet.

 

Take the Pro-Truth Pledge (because we’re all fallible)

Not all like signing pleadges like this, but it very relevant today.

LPolitics is plagued by fakenews and post-truth as it seems politicians compete with each other to spew out the most blantant post-truth aka lies.

It is equally bad when science impinges on daily lives. We all know of the post-truth of Creationists, which is often deliberate. But we see the same on GMOs and glyphosphate. On climate change we have the fake news and post-truth from the extreme climate deniers to the radical activists like Bill McKibbin, Friends of the Earth and Christian groups like Operation Noah. I don’t who are the worst

And then there is fracking, and antifrackers have got post-truth down to fine art.

Read and enjoy, but only after you have marked, learned and inwardly digested

Even if you do not sign the pledge, make sure that you carry it out by sharing, honouring and encouraging truth and show no quarter to those who persistently do not

This is another pertinent post from Paul Braterman

Primate's Progress

Pro-Truth Pledge LogoI  learnt about this pledge from the Skeptic Reading Room. And while I generally loathe public pledges (too much virtue signalling for my liking), I am making an exception for this one, in response to our exceptional times. And the fine print makes admirable reading. Besides,  several hundred public figures and organizations have signed it, including Steven Pinker and Peter Singer, and what’s good enough for them is good enough for me. Many dozens of politicians have signed it as well, and one of the aims is to persuade more to do so, and hold them accountable.

Truth matters. Propagating untruth is big business and big politics. The traditional guardians of truth have abdicated, are compromised, or lack traction. By default, the job of protecting truth falls to us. We need to take our responsibility seriously.

We are all drawn towards confirmation bias, group think (our own group, of course!)…

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Why is Young Earth Creationism so appealing?

Appeal of Young Earth Creationism

 

Forty years ago creationism and anti-Darwinism was almost unknown outside the USA but today it is common throughout the world and results in conflicts in various religions and over education. The roots of creationism are in American fundamentalism and the modern movement effectively dates from 1961. Since the 80s creationism has grown throughout the world influencing faiths, education and museums. 

 

Creationism has grown within evangelical Christianity, which often tends to take the Bible literally. Within Europe this has resulted in pressure to make science teaching critical of evolution and to recognise creationism as valid science. So far this has been rejected within the UK and EU. 

 

  The growing evangelicalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America is dominantly creationist, and is beginning to impact on education, though there has been pressure to alter anthropological displays in Nairobi museums and to teach Creationism in various countries.  

 

            It is difficult to give a clear picture of creationism as the situation is confused. One thing is clear; Creationism will be at the centre of controversy both in world faiths and in education for many years to come. 

To many YEC is simply absurd but simply saying that will not help. We need to understand why some Christians believe it so fervently

 

Answers magazine, Oct-Dec 2014 issue

The appeal of YEC cannot be understood without grasping the deeply felt reasons for believing what many scientists think nonsense. YEC provides the “scientific” capping to a “biblical world view,” which provides an all-embracing outlook on life and integrates every aspect of life. It enables one to oppose non-Christian world views and to be confident in the “Culture Wars.” Recently many evangelicals have stressed the uniqueness of the biblical world view against the secular world view, which may look to science for its justification. This is expounded, for example by John MacArthur of The Master’s College in California in Think Biblically (MacArthur, 2003) and on the AIG Web site.

 

The reasons for accepting YEC are interrelated and are threefold being theological, moral and anti-reductionist. These predicate the scientific objections to “evolution” and are more than adherence to a literal Bible.
The most important reason for accepting YEC is a concern for salvation through Christ. The heart of evangelical faith is redemption through the death of Christ, expressed as (penal) Substitutionary Atonement in that Jesus’ death on the cross forgives sin and takes away the penalty of death. This goes back to St. Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. Since the late eighteenth century, the corollary of an ancient earth was that animals were living and dying long before humans, thus most evangelicals have limited the “death” brought about by the Fall to humans, and regard animal death as of no consequence to the atonement. However some evangelicals in the early nineteenth century, for example George Bugg, and YECs today argue otherwise and that physical death came in at the Fall (Genesis 3), and that the Fall resulted in a Curse over all creation, and before that no animal died or suffered. If T. Rex had actually attacked and killed herbivores 100million years ago, then the whole Christian Faith will collapse like dominoes, hence the geological timescale must be false. This is at the heart of YEC arguments as expounded by Sarfati (2004, Refuting Evolution pp. 195–224), and Whitcomb in the appendix to The Genesis Flood (Morris and Whitcomb, 1961). Carefully presented (with evangelistic overtones) this is crucial.
The authority of the Bible is central to evangelicals, who often interpret it in its plain or literal sense. For early Genesis, that means creation in six days and a worldwide flood. A Young Earth model supports this “scientifically,” so YEC is the only valid interpretation. A further “biblical” appeal is the Sabbath as the day of rest. The Fourth Commandment reads, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work. . . . for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20 vs 8–11). Hence the Sabbath is dependent on a six-day creation and thus “billions” of years must be wrong. To reject this is to reject the Commandments.
Hence the biblical arguments for YEC are threefold,

first, upholding the plain sense of scripture, which is inerrant in history and science,

second, buttressing salvation through Christ’s death, dependent on no death before the Fall, and

third, defending the Commandments .

As these are essential to evangelical belief then a Christian must be YEC. The appeal is irresistible. Well, almost.
To understand why YEC beliefs have grown in the Anglican Church, the approach of evangelicals like Richard Blackham are very instructive. He was curate of All Souls Langham Place under Richard Bewes for many years and has a particular perspective on the bible. Briefly he seeks to interpret the Bible without external influences and thus no input from any other knowledge. On Genesis and creation that means that he ignores science and opts for a literal interpretation. i.e a theological argument for YEC. This has manifest itself on his video on Genesis for the Open Bible series, produced while at All Souls. This caused controversy at All Souls as several members, with scientific backgrounds saw this as moving from the classic evangelicalism of John Stott to fundamentalism. More recently Blackham has been working with John Mackay on a creationist understanding of Genesis.

This self-sufficient and internally-consistent world-view and very appealing as it is a very strong faith position, which appears to give a powerful challenge to secularism and any alternative religion. Its Achilles heel is on biblical literalism in relation to Genesis and if that is not accepted the worldview collapse like a line of dominoes.

Moral concerns, particularly over eugenics, motivated the antievolutionists of the 1920s and the Scopes trial . YEC has amplified this position and stress that evolution leads to immorality of every kind. In his book The Genesis Solution (Ham and Taylor 1988, p. 97). Ham argues that evolution leads to a decrease in marriage, an increase of suicides, euthanasia, pornography, abortions, promiscuity, sexual abuse, homosexuality, theft, violence, racism, etc.

evolution leads to a decrease in marriage, an increase of suicides, euthanasia, pornography, abortions, promiscuity, sexual abuse, homosexuality, theft, violence, racism, etc.

Hence evolution is contrary to family values. The concern to counter teaching evolution partly stems from this.
A further appeal of YEC is the opposition to Reductionism, or Nothingbuttery as Donald Mackay called it. This is the view that everything is nothing but physics and chemistry and that there is nothing distinct about humans. Reductionism often stems from a scientific materialist philosophy. Opposition to reductionism is by no means restricted to YECs. Many oppose reductionism. Arthur Peacocke, the British biochemist and clergyman, opposed reductionism for decades from a liberal theology and founded the Society of Ordained Scientists in 1986 to facilitate this. John Polkinghorne, Donald Mackay, and many evangelical members of the CIS also oppose Reductionism. However YEC is extreme antireductionism. When these arguments are put before an evangelical audience the appeal of YEC becomes compelling. Anyone who to challenges them, and “scientific arguments” for YEC are compromising the Gospel. That is why such beliefs are so tenacious. The argument is more over deeply held religious convictions than intellectual ones. Recent anti-evolutionism is often bound up with the Religious Right and family values, but one must ask whether the motivation is the control of education or religious belief. All YECs I know of are so because of religious rather than political or educational convictions. It may be hard to understand their outlook if one is not “religious” and thus one may look for a nonreligious explanation in line with the secular outlook of Western academic culture. But this often fails to understand their motivation. One must grasp the religious and moral appeal of YEC in order to understand the movement and how it has developed. The scientific arguments are beyond the wit of most people, but the average evangelical will understand why the blood of Christ washes away his sin, even if he cannot evaluate the arguments for and against the decay of the speed of light.

Hence acceptance of Young earth Creationism supports one’s Christian faith in a world which can be hostile to Christianity