Belief of Origin – A Choice of Two Narratives

When discussing the origin of what we observe about ourselves and what is around us, it is necessary to begin with just that – what we observe about ourselves and what is around us. We can make many observations about these things – what they look like, what they’re made of, the present state of them, and perhaps their tendencies over time according to our observations.

These observations, however, are finite. We cannot know for certain something which we have no ourselves observed or experienced. At times, we can make judgements, and come to conclusions, based on information passed on to us by trustworthy sources. I, for example, have never visited Uluru, and yet there is no question to my mind as to whether it exists, whether it’s in the centre of Australia, whether it’s orangey-red or whether it’s very, very large. I have spoken to people who have visited it and I have seen pictures of it. Of course, it might all be an elaborate hoax to fool me, but that seems unlikely.

However, while it is possible for me to believe in the existence of Uluru without having personally confirmed its existence, the same cannot be extended to many other things. While I trust that Queen Elizabeth II is real and has been coronated, because I have seen video footage of it, there is no video footage of Henry VIII’s coronation. I must simply trust written records by people who were there – people who are long since dead and whom I will never meet or be able to form an opinion of their trustworthiness – that it took place. Likewise, I must trust a written record which says that David was once a King or that Julius was once a Caesar.

These things all happened relatively recently, as compared to the origin of the earth, however that might have occurred. There were no cameras to record how the earth came into being. In fact, no-one believes there were even any humans around at the time it happened who might have recorded it for us. All we have on which to base our understanding of the origin of what is around us is simply what is around us.

No-one can disagree on these things. One would have to be determined to ignorance to disagree that the rocks in the Adelaide Hills are sedimentary and misaligned. Anyone driving up the Freeway can see it. However, the question naturally arises of how they got that way – or, in fact, how there came to be humans living, breathing, and developing the skills to build cars and a Freeway on which to drive them.

The most popular story in our culture of how things came to be this way involves vastly long periods of time, too long to imagine. It involves ancient seas which deposited the sediments, and at some point in which atoms became cells and became creatures from which we are ultimately derived. This theory is based on various observations of what is around us. We see how river mouths deposit sediments which, over the course of several years, can build up into sand-banks and need to be dredged. We have dug up fossils of various creatures, some of which no longer exist. We see the time it takes something to change – environmentally or biologically – and extrapolate that back to calculate what things might have been like in the distant past.

Another story, which has fallen into disfavour in our culture, involves much shorter periods of time. It involves a catastrophic flood, a sudden event, and the quick arrival and development of everything we see today. This theory, also, can be based on observations of what is around us. We see how flash-floods can change the shape of a river in minutes, even seconds, and deposit layers of mud on houses and roads. We have dug up fossils of various creatures, many of which we recognise as creatures still living today. We see the world around us and cannot conceive of how it came to be by sheer chance, and we turn to a written record from a time ages before us for answers. This written record tells us that these events, although they might seem unusual to us because they have not happened in our own observation, were carried out through the supernatural intervention of a divine being.

There’s a third option, of course, and that is to somehow combine the popular theory – based on observation and extrapolation – with the traditional theory – based on observation and records. This can happen in various ways. Perhaps this divine being – God – oversaw the slow process which we can extrapolate from our observations, starting with an ancient sea and a single cell. Perhaps He hurried things along a bit, and created a few different forms of life from which the things which we see developed. There are many different ways of combining the two stories of how things came to be, some of which do less justice to either than others.

On page 135 of “Introducing Christian Doctrine”, Erickson states that the story of God creating in a series of acts which involved long periods of time and which took place an indefinite time ago “does full justice to both the scientific and Biblical data”. I disagree.

Of course, it depends entirely on what one means by “scientific data”. In our current culture, many would have us believe that evolution is scientific data. It, however, is not. What is, on the other hand, is what can be readily and repeatedly observed. Old-earth evolution cannot be readily and repeatedly observed by sheer virtue of the fact that it happens over long periods of time, and we do not. Old-earth evolution is a story compiled from the data – that which has been observed – and which attempts to do justice to the data. Similarly, young-earth creation is a story compiled from the data which attempts to do justice to it.

It seems to me that what Erickson is doing is assuming that old-earth evolution is a scientific fact when, in actuality, it is simply a working theory based on evidence. This evidence, however, can just as easily contribute to young-earth creation views of the origin of the world and of life. Of course, there are some areas which have more trouble integrating to a young-earth creation view (for example, the age of rocks and fossils, or the distance which light has travelled), just as there are some areas which have more trouble integrating to an old-earth evolution view (for example, the absence of linking fossils, or the inability of new DNA to simply appear). To assume, however, that one is a better explanation of what we observe that the other would be simply prejudice.

What it really comes down to – if we’re dealing with what we see around us – is which story to believe. Young-earth creation seems implausible to many people because it involves supernatural intervention. However, for Christians, the existence of the supernatural is a fact. One cannot be a Christian without acknowledging the existence of God and His ability to interact with people and the world in a very real manner. Why, then, should there be a problem for Christians in believing that God has interacted with the world in the past?

Of course, there are many other arguments which could stand to be covered, such as the reliability of the Biblical record of events or various methods of placing an age on things around us by virtue of their chemical composition. There are also implications of the view one might choose to take, such as responsibility for the environment and for other creatures. Both Christians and atheists might have questions about the future of the earth and what that means for our interactions with it and with its resources. Which view we take also has implications for what we might expect of the rest of the universe.

But, for me, what the question of the origin of things really comes down to is a question of which story to believe. There is no question about the facts of what is around us. However, when asking how they came to be how they are, should I believe the recent musings of other fallible humans (regardless of how learned or how wise they might be), or should I believe a written historical document which is confirmed to date back unchanged at least two thousand years and which has been proven in many points by corroborating outside evidence to be correct?

Who should I believe about how the world came to be? People or God?

We covered Creation today in Theological Survey. This is my required response to it and to the assigned reading text. I assumed nothing in my answer to the question “Does Creation Make Sense?”, which has probably been my downfall in the review of the response by my peers, since there are a number of arguments I could have used earlier on but didn’t, and a number of implications of my own belief I made which aren’t clear. I’m still in the very elementary stages of Introductory Logic, so you’ll have to forgive me for being very basic and obvious in my logical method arguments.

 

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