As an Evangelical I believe, primarily on the basis of the teaching of Jesus, that the Bible is the word of God. In view of this I accept what Scripture has to say about creation. However, I reject outright what is often called the literalistic hermeneutic of the Creationists which I believe is not only wrong but impossible to apply, at least, consistently. In my experience, Creationists and especially premillennialists are well acquainted with the tradition emanating from Augustine of Hippo but not with the Bible which to the extent that it is read is so through his eyes. (The issue is somewhat more complicated than I might appear to suggest here. Fundamentalist perception of Augustine is doubtless more naïve than Augustine himself was. For clarification of this comment, readers might well consult Alister McGrath’s essay entitled “Augustine’s Origin of Species” in Christianity Today, May 2009.)
Since I am not particularly interested in (the history of) fundamentalists, I want in the following paragraphs to indicate areas where I find myself in radical disagreement with some of their teachings.
Disease and Death
First, they lay emphasis on the fact that what appears to be wrong with this world such as disease, aging and death is the result of the sin of Adam and Eve our first forbears. The biblical background of this seems to be somewhat tenuous. While it is true that all parents have a powerful impact on their children for good or evil (Luke 11:13; Heb. 12:10, cf. Ex. 20:5f.), their behaviour does not fatalistically predetermine theirs (as original sin whether transmitted or imputed does) as Jeremiah 31:29f. and Ezekiel 18 amply demonstrate. While in Romans 5:12-21 Paul clearly teaches that Adam influenced his posterity for evil, nowhere does he suggest that either disease or death is directly attributable to him. With regard to disease, Jesus in John 9 seems to repudiate the idea in the case of the congenitally blind man and implicitly in Sarah’s and Hannah’s infertility, Moses’ stammering (cf. Ex. 4:11), blemished animals and so forth. With regard to death, Paul makes it clear that death is only wages (Rom. 6:23) when people break the law like Adam and Eve before them (Rom. 5:12). Thus the OT consistently distinguishes between the sins of the fathers and those of the children (see e.g. Ps. 106:6; Ezek. 20:18-31) and Paul sees himself as a striking case in point (Rom. 7:9f.). (See further my Imitation) Since where there is no law there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15), the reason for the death of babies and animals, which do not know the law, cannot be sin – neither wages nor the direct result of Adam’s sin. There is obviously another explanation for their death. It is not far to seek, as we shall see below. (See my Death Before Genesis 3, A Double Helping)
Creationists, following Augustine, imply that God intended Adam and Eve to live forever in the Garden of Eden. This is impossible for various reasons. First, since he emanated from the earth Adam was dust and hence temporal like the earth itself (cf. Gen. 1:1; 1 Cor. 15:45-50; Rev. 21:1). As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to be born and a time to die (3:2). This was true of creation in general (Ps. 102:25-27), so it must have been true of Adam. Next, Paul informs us that what is visible is inherently impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18). Little wonder then that Genesis 6:3 tells us that man’s span of years is about 120 because he is visible flesh which comes from the visible earth. Then, if Adam was designed to live forever in Eden, why was he promised eternal life before he sinned (Gen. 2:17)? (Cf. circumcision which signifies law, John 7:22; Gal. 5:3, and promises life to all who obey it. It is performed on 8-day old baby boys before they break it – or, in Jesus’ case, keep it.) Paul testifies to the fact that while God himself is by nature immortal (1 Tim. 6:16), immortality is something promised to Adam, his fleshly creature, on the condition of obedience. This is transgenerationally the case in Scripture as repeated references to Leviticus 18:5 testify.
The Garden of Eden
Then there is the question of the Garden of Eden itself. Even some traditionalists seem to realize nowadays that the Eden of Genesis requires enhancement of some kind. It is no more a permanent home for man than the Promised Land (Heb. 3,4) and in fact it reaches its definitive expression only in the book of Revelation (21-22). So the idea that God intended our first parents to live there forever is moonshine, and this is noticeably absent in Revelation 21:23! But such is the antipathy of creationists to the very idea of evolution, not to mention naturalism, that they have invented a totally unbiblical creature Adam who was not only created fully mature in one literal day but was by implication to remain forever totally devoid of development. Thus the inference must be that the first Adam produced a son (Luke 3:38) who, since he conspicuously underwent development (see e.g. Luke 2), was completely different from him (contrast Rom. 5:14). In view of this, despite Hebrews 2 for example, we are forced to conclude that he belonged to another species! Yet Genesis itself tells us that Adam’s sons were produced in his own image (Gen. 5:1-3).
Next, creationists tell us that when Adam and Eve broke the commandment they not only “fell” from their original righteousness but brought a curse on the whole creation. First, Genesis 2:16f. and 3:5,22 clearly imply that since at the start, like babies, they did not know the law and hence good and evil, we are bound to infer that they were innocent (cf. Rom. 4:15). So we must ask how they could possibly have been originally righteous. According to Scripture righteousness can only be gained by keeping the commandment and unrighteousness by breaking it (Rom. 6:16). If then they were not originally righteousness, how could they fall? To ask the question is to answer it. The Miltonic “high estate” entertained by many is pure myth. The plain truth is that our first parents never enjoyed any righteousness or high estate from which to fall. (See further my What Fall?) This suggests that while the so-called cosmic curse which was the consequence of breaking the law (cf. Heb. 2:2) might have affected their relationship with eachother and with their immediate surroundings (cf. Prov. 24:30f., etc.), it hardly affected the rest of the universe! After all, the flood is explicitly said to be a curse but it was brought about not by Adam and Eve but by their sinful descendants (Gen. 6:11-13). Furthermore, we are told that such a curse will never occur again (Gen. 8:21f.). So we must wonder if Adam ran out of steam!
Futility and Corruption
Creationists tell us vehemently that the reason why the earth is in a state of decay and futility is because of sin. The problem here is that Jesus who was sinless was visibly subject to physical decay (Luke 3:23) in violent contrast with his Father in heaven (Ps. 90:2; 102:26, etc.). Even his enemies noted that he was growing older (John 8:57) and what grows old eventually disappears (Heb. 8:13, cf. Col. 2:22). This means at least two things: first, he had developed, matured or evolved in some sense, and, second, that he was naturally corruptible. (See my Creation Corruptible By Nature) So the conclusion must be drawn that futility and corruption have another source quite unrelated to sin. I suggest it is the earth or creation itself. The word ‘creation’ immediately brings to mind Romans 8:18-25 where Paul tells us that God himself decreed the decay of both creation and creature that derived from it from the start. As in John 3:1-8 mention of sin is noticeably missing from this passage.
We noted above that all visible or created things are impermanent (2 Cor. 4:18). This would seem to suggest that the flesh which derives from the earth is also impermanent / perishable / corruptible / futile / subject to decay. And this is precisely what both Jesus and Paul imply. In John 3 Jesus tells us that we must be born again not, as Augustine taught, because we are born the sinful offspring of Adam, but because we are flesh (dust). Again, in 1 Corinthians 15:50 Paul uncompromisingly asserts that flesh and blood can no more inherit the kingdom of God than the intrinsically perishable can inherit the imperishable. Furthermore, John distinguishes between being born of man (flesh) and being born of God (spirit, John 1:13). And in 6:63 Jesus in line with the OT prophets (Ps. 118:8; Jer. 17:5) baldly asserts that flesh is unprofitable. In Romans 7:18 and 8:8 Paul says virtually the same.
It follows from this that while feeding and nurturing the flesh keeps us physically alive until we die (cf. John 6:49), to do this to the exclusion of the spirit is ultimately ruinous. Paul graphically expresses the issue when he tells us in Galatians 6:7f. that when we sow exclusively to the flesh, all we reap is a harvest of corruption. This it clearly does in the sinless animal world which is characterized by death as many wildlife films on TV demonstrate. (Sir David Attenborough and his ilk are excellent preachers even if they do not believe the Bible!) In other words, since corruptible flesh derives from the earth, the earth itself is corruptible. And this Paul teaches in Romans 8:18-25 (see my essay Romans 8:18-25).
In light of this it is reasonable to assume that the ‘good’ earth (Gen. 1; 1 Tim. 4:4) can no more meet our needs than can the ‘good’ law (Gal. 3:21; Heb. 8:7). This is clearly what the Bible implies when it distinguishes between material and spiritual food. Even though the animals and the Israelites are fed by God, even by bread from heaven (John 6:31), they all nonetheless die (John 6:22-59). So, if we live entirely on perishable food, we inevitably perish (cf. Ps. 106:20; Rom. 1:23). To live eternally we need real food from heaven, not manna but living bread (John 6:32,51, cf. Mt. 4:4) along with living water (John 4:10). (Writers traditionally draw the conclusion that if we do not sin, we live and therefore death is exclusively the wages of sin. There is confusion here. Though naturally mortal we are promised life if we keep the law, Lev. 18:5. Even Jesus was naturally mortal but he kept the law and did not earn the wages its transgression involved. Though he rose again from the grave after dying on our behalf, he remained mortal flesh, Luke 24:39. However, since he had kept the law he was no longer subject to death, Rom. 6:9. This being so, he had to be changed in order to enter the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. 15:50-53. Animals are naturally mortal but since they do not know the law they cannot keep its promise and so gain eternal life. The same is true of babies who know neither the law nor good and evil. Without faith they cannot please God, Heb. 11:6. See my Two ‘Natural’ Necessities)
As noted above, Creationists again follow Augustine in maintaining that we are born sinners. Just how we can be sinners without breaking the law which defines sin (Rom. 4:15; James 2:9-11; 1 John 3:4) is difficult to understand. This brings us to the notion of original sin – sin either transmitted or imputed. Neither is possible. Ezekiel 18, for example, puts paid to the idea of sin transmitted (Catholics), and sin cannot be imputed (Protestants) unless it is either actually committed or received by faith as in Jesus’ case. In any case, by definition imputed sin cannot earn wages (Rom. 4:1-8), so if it causes death wages are not involved! So much for tradition.
This raises another problem. If we sin ‘in Adam’ (as Augustine taught adding illegitimately to Scripture in Romans 5:12) and are born sinners how can we possibly be saved? All the more so when Paul teaches that we are expected to conduct ourselves according to nature (Rom. 1:26)! Creationists propose regeneration and conversion as the solution. But how can born sinners (sinners by nature) possibly be converted without becoming something other than they are by nature? Can a leopard change its spots without ceasing to be a leopard (Jer. 13:23)? Creationists tell us that this can only occur when we become regenerate. How do we become regenerate? By election apparently! In other words, our salvation is not by grace through faith but by a sovereign though arbitrary act of God. In other words, it is wholly and exclusively monergistic. If this is true, then personal responsibility flies through the window. It would appear therefore that Creationists are as fatalistic as Muslims. They attribute all to the sovereign and arbitrary will of God. They do nothing, God does everything! How does Scripture deal with this problem? Implicitly, it denies that there is a problem because it fails, first, to teach original sin, hence, second, it denies its solution merely by a sovereign act of regeneration. Third, it teaches that faith and repentance which we are commanded to exercise (Mark 1:15; 1 John 3:23) precede the new birth (cf. John 3:16). The consistent teaching of the Bible is that righteousness is the precondition of life (Gen. 2:17; Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5, etc.). And we can only attain to righteousness by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). In other words, faith leads to righteousness and righteousness leads to life (Rom. 5:21).
The Garden of Eden Temporary
Most Creationists appear to hold somewhat inconsistently apparently that if our faith is genuine we inherit eternal life and eventually go to heaven. After all, they say, we are designed for eternity. But if this is true, how come that we were originally intended to live forever in an earthly Eden? Was it eternal? If as Augustine taught Adam was created immortal, it must have been since an immortal being needs an eternal place to live in. Little wonder that some creationists accept the idea of a literal return to the Garden of Eden or Paradise Regained. Fortunately, others opt for heaven recognizing the fundamental difference between earth and heaven, between Genesis 2,3 and Revelation 21,22.
I conclude that Creationism is so beset with difficulties it must be wrong.
This brief essay was inspired by a paragraph headed “The Origin of Death and Disease” on page 31 of In God’s Image, Leominster, 2008. There Stuart Burgess writes: “The Bible teaches that death and disease came because Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Adam and Eve were designed to live in the Garden of Eden for ever. However, Adam and Eve rebelled against God by disobeying his command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The whole of creation was cursed as a result of this rebellion and this explains why the world is in a state of decay. Since the curse, everyone has been born a sinner and is naturally in a state of rebellion against God until he or she is converted.”
I leave the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.