(Professor Emeritus Brian Butterfield has given me permission to post the following on my website. It raises some key issues which deserve thoughful reaction. Use the comment box underneath to join the discussion)
The following issues need to be addressed by the Christian church if it is to maintain any credibility in the twenty-first century:
1) THE WORLD WAS NOT CREATED PERECT AND IT DID NOT FALL FROM A ONCE PERFECT STATE
The concept of a Fall from a perfect state is taught in Old Testament myths and reinforced by Paul. We now know that there never was a perfect state. Long before humans ever appeared on this planet (about 400,000 years ago depending on your definition of a human) there was death, aggression and cruelty. The existence of coal seams dating from many million years ago shows us that death of trees and other plants was normal. Crude oil comes from the decayed remains of sea creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years before humans ever appeared. The skeletons of ancient forms of life locked in death fights bear testimony to the cruelty that has always been here. Death has been part of life since the first cell. It has nothing to do with the appearance of humans.
The concept of a perfect creation before the “fall” also assumes that all of creation was finished after the event – be it 6 days or 13.7 billion years. It would have to be be finished for God to look on it and say it was good.
It wasn’t. Creation is still in progress. New stars are still being created in the M16 Pillars of Creation nebulae and elsewhere. You can see it on the NASA website.
New species are forming on earth all the time. Where else do you think all the new nasty retro-viruses and bacteria are coming from?
Creation is very much a work in process. Every earthquake and volcano bears testimony to a continuously evolving earth.
2) CREATION IS AN IMMEASURABLY CRUEL PROCESS
Outside our planet, stars are being born and destroyed only to spiral down black holes. Galaxies collide – we will merge with the Andromeda galaxy in 4 billion years time. But our own star, the sun, is due to explode about then anyway.
Every time our cells divide, a small number of genes mis-replicate. That is because the process is not a perfect one. Most of these mutations don’t matter, or are quickly corrected by the cell. Sometimes they lead to cancers and genetic diseases. More often they lead to variability between individuals in the ecosystem. The horrible forces of aggression, predation, carnivory etc then act on these individuals and the weak and less successful are driven out of the system. These forces have been around since the very beginning of life and have nothing to do with any fall or sin of Adam.
In fact if they didn’t exist there would be no natural selection and humans wouldn’t even exist on this planet all. They are the driving forces of creation. But they are forces mutually exclusive to the teachings of Jesus who told us to protect and care for the weak, the sick and deformed and the downtrodden.
3) THE UNIVERSE DOES NOT DISPLAY INTELLIGENT DESIGN
I wish that it did. But what sort of creator would leave the left over bits of the solar system (asteroids etc) to orbit around the solar system and smash into things, wiping out whole groups of animals and plants for no good reason other than creation is not perfect?
And what about the catastrophic events that accompany the cooling of our planet – tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanism? Why are these events allowed to kill indiscriminately, wiping out the good and the bad? And they too have been around since the earth started to cool so we can’t blame a Fall for them either.
Some viruses and bacteria are here to break down other forms of life and recycle nutrients, but some are here just to be plain nasty and cruel. In the TV sitcom The Rev, Adam Smallbone once prayed, “thank you God for all the nice things you have created, but why did you have to create Ebola, Malaria, HIV, and other nasties? They don’t do anything useful.”
3) THE ARGUMENTS OF THE LITERALISTS ARE SIMPLY WRONG IN FACT
“Planet Earth is extremely ‘finely tuned’ to support life. Its
environment is the product of an amazing combination of factors
These factors combine – miraculously – to produce conditions
enabling not just basic life, but higher life forms, including humans. ”
– From a sermon by an Anglican vicar.
This statement is all back to front. Planet earth is NOT fine tuned. It is awful. We are here BECAUSE we have evolved into this hostile environment. There is only a tiny bit of earth’s thin skin that we can survive on, and only small parts of that! Everywhere organisms evolve into habitats that fit their genome. Humans evolved here in our present state BECAUSE of the conditions that existed on our planet not the other way around. Just as deep sea creatures have evolved for their environments, or alpine plants for their ecosystems. One of the issues with evolution is that organisms are becoming more specialized and less able to cope with changing or new environments. That is why extinctions increase with evolution. The more specialized that organisms become, the more restricted their habitats. When their ecosystems are lost they will die out. This could happen to polar bears for example as it has happened with mammoths and other species in the past.
4) THE ARGUMENT THAT HUMANS ARE A UNIQUE SPECIES
Unfortunately we are not. We now know with absolute certainty that there have been been many human species living on this planet. Until about 40,000 years ago there were 4-6 different Homo species all living here together at the one time. That is not surprising. There are many species of monkey, ape and the like currently on our planet, and other species have already died out.
We now know that species are not fixed. They change with time. Homo sapiens were not always as we are now. We came from something else by gradual change following mutations. We will move on to be something else in the future. We are both transients and hybrids. The existence of up to 4% neanderthal genes in the genomes of some humans demonstrates our hybrid nature.
An Indonesian prophet wrote: ” We need to redefine God. God is the ultimate in love. But if he is also the creator, he is also the ultimate in cruelty.”
I can identify with that concept. Christian theology needs to come into the 21st century.