Monday, 26 December 2011

Thought of the day - creation is about purpose

You will find a lot of catchy phrases used in Christian discussions about origins, of which theistic evolution has a fair few. One of the most well known is perhaps that science tells us how, the Bible tells us why. This has been paraphrased numerous times, including "the Bible tells us how to get to Heaven, not how the heavens go" or the more scientifically appealing "the Bible is the rock of ages, it does not teach us the age of rocks". But saying that the Bible teaches us the why of creation leaves a lot to be desired. The overall theme of Genesis 1 is purpose, which itself deserves to be repeated. It is this point which seems to be missed by not just creationists, but Christians of all stripes. A theology of creation cannot simply be about how God produces creation (whether you see it as using naturalistic processes or not) but must also strongly emphasise purpose.

I've said many a time that when God created the light and separated it from the darkness, He set them in a proper relationship with each other in order to created something new - day and night. (I use this point for two reasons, as God is not said to have created darkness, but also the emphasis of proper relationship, which can be used to understand the presence of death in evolution.) Day and night have purpose. The purpose of the first day might be explicitly clear, but this is not quite so for the other days; fortunately we can see for ourselves what purpose they hold just by observing those created things (does anyone believe dry land is useless?).

The whole issue of "kind" in Scripture is a sticking point for many creationists. Earlier today I read the following listed amongst some theological "non-negotiable" points (according to Douglas Groothius apparently):

2. God created each “kind” specially, not through a long naturalistic process of macroevolution. However, we cannot say with certainty that a biblical “kind” corresponds to what biologists call a “species.”

I have a few points I would normally use to respond to this and would like to expand upon one of them:
  • Evolution is, in a sense, reproduction after the "kind". Or, to put it scientifically, the daughter clade is always part of the parent clade. 
  • Kind is not defined in the Bible, so any attempt to use it to dictate science is flawed. 
  • The creationist usage of kind rests on some philosophical presuppositions which are not inherently Biblical (for more on this point, see here). 
  • The description in Genesis is about what God wants from them, not how He created them. 
The final point is the one I would like to expand upon (though I am sure many more points could easily be made). In some of my discussions on Genesis I have emphasised that creating according to their kind is to bless them to reproduce; as can be seen from simple observations, organisms continue to reproduce with members of the same "kind" and produce offspring of the same kind. In line with this blog post's theme, it is not enough to say that is simply a blessing. Instead, while it is a blessing, it is also their purpose. In creating them according to their kinds, God is giving them purpose and blessing them with it. 

This theme of purpose is most evident when humans enter the scene. The ancient Hebrews would have seen their own purpose in the creation story, it fit them right into God's created order. Man is given dominion, then God blessed them and told them to multiply. The creation week is even rounded off with the blessing of the seventh day, giving it purpose. 

So to sum up, creation is not about what God was doing at a specific point in history, it is about purpose. It is about the purpose of man in creation, of every organism, of the celestial bodies and so on. These purposes are ongoing, just as creation itself is. Any theological reading of Genesis which focusses solely on how things were made, with no mention of purpose, is not capable of doing justice to the text. Genesis 1 is not about the how of creation, but the purpose of all that God has made. 

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