Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Made from the dust of the ground

We received the following question from George van Popta on 15 April.

I have a question about Jitse's CC interview. [Here George refers to Bick (2009) in our 'collected papers'; direct link here.] If I understand it well, Jitse is reported as having suggested that man and chimpanzees may have had a common ancestor. My question is: How does that square with Article 14 of the Belgic Confession where we say, 'We believe that God created man of dust from the ground'?

Here is my response:

Article 14 of the Belgic Confession reads: “We believe that God created man of dust from the ground and He made and formed him after His own image and likeness, etc.” Commentaries reveal that the meaning of ‘dust’ ranges from dust to earth, to clay. As a minimum the meaning for the original audience as well as for us includes (1) and (2):

(1) Plants, animals and man are made of the same stuff because all of them are said to have been created from the ‘dust’ or from the ‘earth.’

Gen. 1:11: “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees”

Gen. 1:24: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures”

Gen. 2:7: “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”

Gen. 3:19: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air”

To be sure, one cannot appeal to the fact that plants, animals and people were made from the same stuff in support of any form of biological evolution. That would be a clear distortion of the meaning of the text and, therefore, out of line with the intent of the Author not to give scientific information.

(2) Plants, animals and man are not divine as surrounding pagan creation stories had it.

Comparison with creation stories from the surrounding pagan cultures reveals the polemical intent of the creation story in Genesis. Whereas in pagan stories man is made from something divine, in the biblical story man is made of dust from the ground, meaning that man is not divine. That is, in Genesis 1 and 2 the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature is revealed.

I am not sure why you think there is something to square between Article 14 and the idea of a common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans, but let me make a guess. Some have taken Gen. 2:7 to mean that God acted like a potter. If you take that literally you might see a contradiction with the idea that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor. But other biblical scholars reject the literal ‘potter’ interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay? My conclusion is that the text neither justifies nor excludes the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor for the obvious reason that it is not a scientific text. Therefore, there is no need to square it with Article 14 of the Belgic Confession.

60 comments:

George van Popta said...

I'm no fan of Henry Morris and no "Creation Scientist"; I was excited by the prospect of your new blog. But is that where we need to end up? Humans and chimps might have a common ancestor? Obviously, I can't compete with Jitse on his turf (my biology skills do not surpass the junior high school level), but I seem to recall that humans and fruit flies share about 60% of genetic material. Please see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/647139.stm . Shall we conclude that humans and fruit flies may have a common ancestor?

Could it not be that since fruit flies, chimps and people were all made by the same God, that we ought not to be all that surprised when we find some similarities between the three?

Once again I'm likely revealing my profound ignorance, but is science not descriptive? Yesterday's descriptions of, e.g., the human body, of what it consists and how it works, is surpassed by today's knowledge, which will be surpassed by tomorrow's. Can we be so sure that all our talk of DNA, genes and chromosomes, is really the last word on the matter? That would be a bit arrogant, it seems to me.

George van Popta

John van Popta said...

Dr. Vandermeer contends that there is no need to square Article 14 of the Belgic Confession with the Genesis account of the creation of man, because some commentators reject a “potter’s” account of God creating man from the dust of the ground. But do the Reformed Confessions reject a “potter’s” account?

I wonder whether suggesting that Adam and Eve had primitive parents, or as Dr. Vandermeer suggests, that man and chimpanzees have common ancestors, can be harmonized with Jesus words on marriage when he quotes Adam. We hear Jesus saying, “From the beginning it was not so…” Was Jesus mistaken that Adam was at the beginning? What about the fall into sin? Was Paul wrong about the entrance of sin in the garden? Is the confession wrong when it says, “God came seeking man when he trembling fled from him?” Did Adam exist? Was he an historical creature, with Eve, in a garden? Did a snake talk? Was there a prohibition on eating from a certain tree?

Dr. Vandermeer’s position is not different from Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologizing of the scripture, or of Howard van Till’s “unwrapping the candy bar.” Both contend that the scripture is not presenting history, but a message. Recently Stefan Paas, a Dutch theologian was reported in a Dutch newspaper http://www.nd.nl/artikelen/2009/maart/16/stefan-paas-voelt-zich-verkeerd-begrepen as saying that he:

--- begin quote –

considers the first chapter of the Bible dealing with creation to be historically reliable. This does not mean, however, that God created in six 24-hour days. With theological reflection I mean that Genesis is a prophetic book, a book with a message. What if later in heaven it will appear that the earth was created in six 24-hour days? Then I say: nice to know this, but it is only historical information. More important is the question what the Bible narrative means for us as believers. What does the Bible want to say to us today?

-- end quote --

So the question then comes, is it a matter of indifference if the accounts in the Bible are history or not? Do we just need to interpret the text to discover the message? But if I asked Dr. Paas, "Did Abraham exist? Did Adam? Did Moses?" would he say the same? Would he say, “When I get to heaven and meet Abraham, and I’ll say, ‘Good to know that you exist, but you know, Abe, it wasn't really that important. The myth of the covenant was good enough for me! The reality of your existence is separate from the much more important question. What does the Bible story mean for us as believers? What does the Bible say to us today?’" This is little different from Bultmann's demythologizing of the NT.

I think that Dr. Vandermeer’s position if very similar to Dr. Paas’. He seems to say, “the historical truth of the Biblical narrative is not important because that was not the intent of the author: to present either history or science. Rather, We need to discover the message.”
But the Bible is God’s inspired and living Word by which he tells us what he has done, what he is doing, what he will yet do, and why. Dr. Vandermeer’s hermeneutic decouples the living and abiding Word from history. I believe that the Reformed confessions maintain that that is a wrong hermeneutic.

Benjamin said...

One thing geneticists have found is DNA sequences that are not expressed, i.e. not functional. In addition, some identical non-functioning DNA sequences have been found in two very different species (mice and humans). Why do two very different species share identical sequences that at this time have no function?

Ben Vandergugten

Tony Jelsma said...

A quick response to Benjamin, who I think is referring to hyperconserved sequences. I'm not sure I would agree with your "i.e." What I mean is that just because a sequence is not expressed, doesn't mean it's not functional. It could have a structural function like an attachment site to the nuclear matrix or nuclear pores.

A couple more comments on this: recent detailed studies of gene expression has suggested that the majority of the genome IS expressed, even though just a few percent of the genome encodes proteins. It is not clear what the function of all this gene expression might be but we're finding that gene regulation e.g. by microRNAs is more complex and more subtle than previously expected.

In one recent experiment (I don't have the time to look up the reference) many of these hyperconserved sequences were deleted in mice with no apparent effect. One could argue that these lab mice don't live in the "real world" and might need these sequences for functions which were not tested.

This is a long way of saying, "I have no idea what these sequences are for" :-). Genomic studies continue to surprise and excite me on a daily basis.

EHB said...

John Van Popta’s response gets to the heart of the matter. What it comes down to is one’s view of scripture. If you are going to insist on the historical accuracy of Scripture, you will encounter some serious problems. Take for example the genealogy of Jesus as reported by Matthew in 1:1-17. Clearly it omits many names in order to get to the 14-14-14 pattern. I have heard at least two sermons on this and both times the pastor had no trouble explaining these omissions away along the same lines as Dr. Paas’ approach. That is, the historical accuracy of the Matthew’s genealogy is not important because that was not his intent. Whereupon, the pastor proceeded to explain to us what Matthew’s intent was and how that has meaning and significance for us today. I can cite many more examples of historical inaccuracies in Scripture that we generally don’t take issue with. For example, did Judas Iscariot buy the field before he died (Acts 1:18, 19) or did the chief priests buy the field after he died (Matt. 27:3-10)? Did Jesus spend the first two years of his life in Nazareth (Luke) or in Bethlehem and Egypt (Matthew)? Did Jesus heal one blind man as he approached Jericho (Luke 18) or did he heal two blind men as he was leaving Jericho (Matt. 20)? I could go on. The point is, why is it okay to take this approach when it comes to Matthew’s genealogy, but not acceptable to take this approach in the first few chapters of Genesis. According to me, this lacks consistency.
Ed Baartman

Jitse van der Meer said...

George, you are a better biologist than you think. In general terms the principle biologists use to unravel genealogical relationships between organisms by means of DNA comparison is: the fewer similarities, the more distant the common ancestor. The really interesting fact is that humans and chimps are so qualitatively different despite being more than 99% similar in their DNA sequences. To me this means that a lot is going on that contributes to their differences, but that is not yet understood. This includes the fact that humans have been created in the image of God which apes are not.

Further, of course fruit flies, chimps and humans have been created by the same God. But in my view that does not license any conclusions about a common design plan God might have used to do so. For one, we simply do not know God's plan in this respect and need to find out by studying the book of nature. Also, even if 'common design' was theologically respectable it would not work as a scientific explanation because they involve variables that can be controlled by observers. It is clearly not appropriate (to put it mildly) to have God as such a variable in an explanation. Finally, the genetic similarities between chimps and humans involve defects, and while one might be willing to say that God allowed defects to occur I have difficulty accepting that God created them especially because they share the very details of the defects in the genes for vitamine C and a disabled hemoglobine gene. I also find it difficult to accept the implication that God would have made it look as if chimps and humans were related whereas in reality they were not.

One could try to avoid such problems by holding a view of science that is descriptive, not explanatory. If you did this consistently I am afraid many things you now do would no longer make sense. Why take a flu shot if there is no causal connection with flu prevention? How would you feel if your family physician would not try to find the cause of the pain you described for him?

Jitse van der Meer

Jitse van der Meer said...

John van Popta wonders: "do we just need to interpret the text [of Scripture] to discover the message?" His response to me certainly confirms that interpretation cannot be avoided, but we should do our utmost to offer responsible interpretation. He has interpreted my text to get a message that I do not recognize. Influence of postmodernism where the reader determines the meaning of the text? Since Rudolph Bultmann appears to be the root of all evil let me refer to my wholesale rejection of Bultmann in an essay I wrote about him eight years ago: "Interpreting Nature and Scripture: a New Proposal for Their Interaction." In: "Christianity and the Human Body: A Theology of the Human Body." eds. Robert Brungs and Marianne Postiglione. St. Louis, Missouri: ITEST Faith/Science Press. 2001, pp. 38-72 (see esp. 49-65). That should take care of any supposed similarities with Howard van Till or Stefan Paas with whose writings I am not familiar. To me the historical truth of the biblical story is crucial.

As for the question whether the Reformed Confessions reject a "potter's" account -- I believe it neither rejects nor accepts such an account. It just uses biblical language.The way the Reformed Confessions must be interpreted on this point is determined by the way Scripture is interpreted on this point as John well knows.

Jitse van der Meer

Tony Jelsma said...

On the similarity between the human and chimpanzee vitamin C pseudogenes (gulonolactone (L-) oxidase or GULOP), I did a BLAST search, which aligns two DNA sequences. I first went to Entrez Nucleotide http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=nuccore, searched for GULOP, clicked on the first entry, NG_001136, then on the right clicked on BLAST Sequence. On the Choose Search Set I chose the "other" database, then chose Pan troglodytes (chimp) as the comparison organism, then clicked on BLAST at the bottom. The result was quite surprising. Most of the sequence is NOT similar between humans and chimps, and it looks like a huge piece of ~8000 base pairs is missing in the human sequence. For some reason I am not able to pull up the chimp gene and do the converse BLAST search.
Maybe I'm missing something but these two pseudogenes are not alike. I'm not denying the extensive sequence and chromosome organizational similarity between chimps and humans but something extra must have happened to the human gene.
Have I missed something?

Fritz said...

There is another version of Genesis that might interest you: that of Flavius Josephus in his book "Antiquities of the Jews". I don't know anything about how it was transmitted across the intervening two thousand years, but, here it is:
http://www.interhack.net/projects/library/antiquities-jews/b1c1.html
Fritz Dewit

George van Popta said...

A simple question yet: If man and chimp have a common ancestor, does the man Jesus Christ share in that primitive ancestry? In Article 18 of the BC we confess that Christ has his human nature from the flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, etc. If Mary and Adam had homo-something ancestors, did Christ not, too? But, does Luke 3:38 allow us to posit that Adam had primitive ancestors? This text says that Adam is the earliest ancestor of Christ ("… the son of Adam, the son of God)."

Respectfully, George van Popta

Anonymous said...

Hi George,

I found your first comment (above) interesting - in part because I am a fruit fly geneticist. The level of homology between humans and Drosophila is not so high as you supposed, but it is high enough to make flies a very useful model organism for medical research. You are correct in that this homology can be used to infer common ancestry, but this is an event that happened very deep in time, so the accumulated differences between humans and flies would be expected to be quite large.

I'd ask you to consider why you reject Morris' position - I suspect it is because of evidence. I think we'd all prefer to be YECs in some way - certainly if the evidence had panned out that way it would make for a very theologically satisfying outcome. Yet we don't, because the evidence is so strong for an old earth.

In that vein, I would submit that the question of whether humans and chimps share a common ancestor be settled on the evidence, not as a matter of exegesis (as your last comment suggests). The track record for settling issues of natural science through exegesis does not have a good track record in the church.

If you're interested in exploring the evidence for human : chimp common ancestry, I have put a link into a comment on the most recent post on this blog to a paper written by Todd Wood, a YEC biologist who grapples honestly with the data. You can be sure he is not colouring the data with a "Darwinist" mindset.

Best,

Dennis Venema

Fritz said...

George's question reminds me of a question I've always wanted to ask a CanRC minister.
Suppose, after a hard day's work, you sit down to watch The evening news, and Peter Mansbridge leads off with the story:
"Life on Mars! Scientists at the JPL say that Spirit Rover has detected evidence that life once existed on Mars. ..."
How would you work that into your sermon next Sunday morning?
Fritz Dewit

George van Popta said...

Dennis, I said I am not a fan of Henry Morris because of his heretical view of the incarnation of Christ. Since doctrine, true or false, is of whole cloth, I have trouble accepting him as an authority in other places of biblical teaching.
George van Popta

George van Popta said...

Fritz,
Too hypothetical to answer. Besides, I watch Lloyd Robertson. :-)
George van Popta

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, George. I have never looked into Morris' theology to be honest - I am only familiar with his positions on the sciences. It seems odd that he would fall into that error, since he was such a champion of Scripture (as he understood it, yes, but one cannot doubt his sincerity).

I'm curious though: what do you make of the question of common ancestry? Is it a theological question, a scientific question, or both? Or, to put it another way, do you think accepting the evidence for common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees would be a heresy?

As I understand it, the CRC has made denying common ancestry a point of doctrine (in reaction to the Van Till controversy at Calvin in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps someone who knows more can enlighten us further (Frisian name not withstanding, I do not have a Reformed background save at the level of my late grandparents). Does anyone know if other Reformed denominations have passed similar statements? Dennis Venema

Arnold Sikkema said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arnold Sikkema said...

Dennis: In case you missed it in another thread, see this blog posting by George which discusses the docetism of the young-earth creationist Henry Morris.

Tony discusses this in the last two pages of his paper, “Is Creation Science Reformed?” which can be found in “collected papers” listed in the blog sidebar.

Jitse van der Meer said...

This is in response to George van Popta's post about the ancestors of Jesus dated May 20. Forgive me if I am dense, but could you explain what the problem is that you want to be addressed?

Jitse van der Meer

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that link, Arnold (I did see it before, but thank you for making sure). I wonder how well-known it is among YECs that Morris held this view.

If anything, common ancestry only heightens the humility and emptying that Christ displays in the incarnation. Christ shared our humanity, pseudogenes and all.

Dennis Venema

George van Popta said...

Dennis asked: do you think accepting the evidence for common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees would be a heresy?

I think it best to understand heresies as departures from the ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian). George

George van Popta said...

Sorry I was not clear in my question, Jitse. I meant:

If man and chimp have a common ancestor, does Jesus Christ, in his true human nature and through Adam, share in that primitive ancestry?

George van Popta

Anonymous said...

Hi George,

Thanks for the reply. Do I understand your position correctly that you do not view accepting common ancestry as a heresy? By my reading of the creeds, accepting common ancestry does not constitute a departure from them. How do you read it?

Forgive my pestering, but the normal reply I get from concerned brothers and sisters in the faith is that accepting common descent is heretical, full stop.

Dennis Venema

George van Popta said...

Dennis, I'm not sure. But I'm thinking the question of human origins must surely be related to the first articles of both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds. I'd be curious what others think. Does the espousal of common ancestry between Adam and the chimp in the Garden constitute heresy, or not? Is it within or outside the confessional pale? It would definitely not be the majority opinion among the Canadian Reformed.
George van Popta

Tony Jelsma said...

George, I sense your concern but I'm not sure how the incarnation of Jesus Christ is affected by common ancestry between humans and chimps. The great condescension was that the Creator (Colossians 1:16) became part of that creation. Whether the beginning of that line of humans was dust or a hominid ancestor doesn't really affect things.
Of course, a different question is how common ancestry affects our interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

Jitse van der Meer said...

This is in response to George van Popta's post of May 26. I agree with the response by Tony Jelsma and your question still baffles me. But let me add the following in the hope that it addresses whatever your concern is. When we say that Jesus had a human nature, the word 'nature' means among others that in his humanity Jesus is the perfect image of the Father. Thus with respect to all that is included in being created in the image of God, Jesus did not share his nature with a common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees because Adam and Eve were the first humans created in the image of God. But Jesus is also truly human in his material body and in that respect he like the rest of us shared in this common ancestry. What does this mean? It means as little as the trivial fact that I have a human ancestor in my family tree ten generations ago. For instance, I need to eat fruit because I have a disabled gene that makes it impossible for my body to produce vitamin C. Finally, I would say that after the resurrection Jesus in his material body no longer shares in this common ancestry because he is the first born of the new creation and this includes his body.

Jitse van der Meer

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking the question of human origins must surely be related to the first articles of both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds. I'll admit I don't quite understand you here - those articles hold that God is the creator of all. I don't see how that conflicts with common ancestry as a proposed mechanism of creation. I see creation as creation, regardless of the mechanism. I think the same of plate tectonics with respect to the creation of land, for example.

Thoughts?

Dennis Venema

Jitse van der Meer said...

Denis,

Whom is it you don't understand, Jitse van der Meer or George van Popta?

Jitse van der Meer

Anonymous said...

Hi Jitse,

My comment was directed at George (the fist bit in italics is a quote from one of his comments). If I understand George's concern correctly, he is suggesting that accepting common ancestry may in some way go against the assertion in the creeds that God is the Creator. I don't agree with that logic since I see common ancestry as a mechanism of creation.

Of course, I may not be interpreting George's concern correctly - we'll have to see if he will clarify it.

Best,

Dennis Venema

Arnold Sikkema said...

Tony, you said, “Whether the beginning of that line of humans was dust or a hominid ancestor doesn't really affect things.” To be clear, I think by that by “dust” you meant “dust in the literalistic potter's clay sense”; Jitse has proposed a different interpretation of “dust” in his piece. (Side note: Does Jitse's interpretation gain credibility when considering Ps. 103:14, where the Psalmist says, “[the LORD] remembers that we are dust.”?)

Tony Jelsma said...

Arnold, I meant dust in the sense of nonliving matter. Genesis 3:19 says, "For dust you are and to dust you shall return." The most obvious interpretation of this verse is that man was created from nonliving matter and will return to nonliving matter. Jitse's interpretation is that "dust" refers to a non-divine origin. The polemic nature of the early chapters of Genesis, emphasizing the creatureliness of creation is certainly true and may well include this aspect.
But what does it mean that man will return to dust? What about our resurrection?

George van Popta said...

To Dennis (and others): I'm going to have to bow out until early next week since I'm on a short vacation. But let me reiterate briefly: I don't know whether believing that man and chimps have a common ancestor is a heresy or not. I am sure, however, that it would be a new position among the Canadian Reformed.

John van Popta said...

George wrote:

Dennis asked: do you think accepting the evidence for common ancestry between humans and chimpanzees would be a heresy?

I think it best to understand heresies as departures from the ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian).

end quote:

I think it best that we leave the designation of what is heresy and what isn't to the church as it meets collegially. It isn't up to individual believers to declare what some in the church teach as heresy or not.

I do think, however, that the teaching that Adam and therefore Jesus Christ share ancestry with "primitive parents" is a teaching that the church should examine and decide whether or not it falls within the pale of orthodoxy.

John vp

John van Popta said...

In 1926 the Reformed churches in the Netherlands rejected Rev. Geelkerken's teachings, and affirmed that Adam was an historical creature, in a garden, with a tree and a snake.

Would those who defend that Adam and Eve shared common ancestry with pre-adamic creatures accept that Genesis three is historically accurate.

John vp

John van Popta said...

Dr. Vandermeer is "baffled" by the question George van Popta poses: "Does Jesus Christ share in Adam's and chimpazee's common ancestor?"

In his answer to George, he asserts that in his "image-of-God-humanity", Jesus Christ shares in Adam's nature as the first creature created in the image of God, and thus does not share in the common ancestor, but in his "material- body-humanity", is a descendant of Adam's primitive parents.

Would Dr. Vandermeer accept the historical accuracy of the account of the fall of Adam (the first creature created in the image of God) but not the historical accuracy of the first Adam's creation?

To rephrase my query:

Dr. Vandermeer writes, "Adam and Eve were the first humans created in the image of God." This indicates to me that he believes that there were two historical people (albeit with primitive parents) of whom we read in Genesis 1 - 5. Not accepting the "potter's" account of the creation of the first man, does Dr. Vandermeer accept the account of the Fall, with all its attendant features: (Garden, Two Trees, talking snake, banishment from the Garden, an angel guarding the way)?

John van Popta

John van Popta said...

One more time....

Dr. Vandermeer writes

"Finally, I would say that after the resurrection Jesus in his material body no longer shares in this common ancestry because he is the first born of the new creation and this includes his body."

I'm not very comfortable with that statement at all.

This does not square with Heidelberg Cat 18.49 about Christ's ascension into heaven, where we confess that the second benefit we receive is that "we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that He, our Head, will also take us, His members up to Himself."

And it seems to run counter HC 22.57 about the resurrection of the body: ...but also this my flesh, raised by the power of Christ shall be reunited with my soul..."

And it seems to speak differently from BC 37 about the last judgment: "Those who will have died before that time will arise out of the earth, as their spirits are once again united with their own bodies in which they lived."

I think that Dr. Vandermeer posits a much to great discontinuity between Jesus pre-grave body and and his resurrection body: a discontinuity that the scripture does not teach and which the confessions do not affirm.

Dr. Vandermeer's position with respect to Adam's common ancestry with other primates would I think need to maintain that Jesus Christ still shares that same common ancestry in his resurrection body.

John van Popta

Arnold Sikkema said...

I would tend to agree with John van Popta on the continuity of the material composition of Jesus. It is a great comfort to know that while in the incarnation Christ joined in the human experience, at the ascension our Saviour carried with Him our human nature (including, somehow, “our” atoms, molecules, DNA, flesh, bones, neuronal firing patterns) into the transcendent presence of the Father. I say “somehow” because it is a great mystery how material and processes from this world, which we know (especially via modern physics) to be intricately connected with the very time and space of this creation, are brought to a “place” outside of time and space. This is just one aspect of the mysterious tension between and the simultaneous reality of continuity and discontinuity which we will all experience at our own resurrection. And it also is an affirmation of God’s Genesis 1 declaration of the “goodness” of creation including our bodies, unlike the pagan Greek philosophy which posits that the human person is an unholy combination of something good from heaven (“soul”) + something evil from earth (“body”).

George van Popta said...

Dennis,

I agree with John van Popta who made the point that what is/is not a heresy is within the jurisdiction of the church to declare (cf. the ecumenical councils of the 3rd and 4th centuries). I'm not trying to play coy; rather, it does not lie in my province.

George van Popta

John van Popta said...

A month ago or so (April 30) Ed Baartman wrote

Quote ----

What it comes down to is one’s view of scripture. If you are going to insist on the historical accuracy of Scripture, you will encounter some serious problems. Take for example the genealogy of Jesus as reported by Matthew in 1:1-17. Clearly it omits many names in order to get to the 14-14-14 pattern. I have heard at least two sermons on this and both times the pastor had no trouble explaining these omissions away along the same lines as Dr. Paas’ approach. That is, the historical accuracy of the Matthew’s genealogy is not important because that was not his intent. Whereupon, the pastor proceeded to explain to us what Matthew’s intent was and how that has meaning and significance for us today. I can cite many more examples of historical inaccuracies …

--- end quote

Ed is right that this has to do with one’s view of Scripture. I doubt though that the Canadian Reformed Pastor would agree with Dr. Stefan Paas’ approach. Stefan Paas does not accept the historicity (at least not in his book “Creation and Judgment”) of anything before the entrance into Canaan. To Paas, all of it is etiological myth (i.e. story by which a community explains its origins, and defends its practices). However, I think that the structure of 14 14 14 in Matt 1 can be tested against the OT by a CanRC minister BECAUSE the minister accepts the historical accuracy of the OT, including the Pentateuch. And since there clearly is planned structure in Matthew 1, which doesn’t square with the historical facts as revealed in God’s inspired Word in the OT, we can, by faithful historical-grammatical exegesis, strive to understand Matthew’s meaning and message.

I don’t think that faithful Reformed confessional exegesis can do that with evolutionary theories, however. What those who provide a “primitive parent” to Adam and Eve (and did they ever really exist, then?) do is this: “Since the Genesis account doesn’t square with my understanding of cosmology, geology, and biology, (CGB) then Genesis is not historical.” But that reasoning places human understanding of CGB at the same level as the Bible (or even above it), and that means the Bible is read through the “spectacles of nature” instead of nature being read through the “spectacles of scripture.”

So then, as Ed correctly points out, it comes down to “what do you believe the Bible to be?” and “what is your interpretive paradigm?” Do we interpret the world with the Bible in hand, or do we interpret the Bible with our CGB theories in hand. Which has first priority? The Bible or our theories?

In Belgic Confession 2 we read that we know God by two means: “First, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe.” Notice carefully that it does not say that we know God by creation, or in creation (ie creation as a noun.) But we know God by the creation… of the universe (ie creation as a verb.) We can know God because mankind can see that there is a divine being who created, and who continues to preserve and govern, that universe. This is a far cry from saying that “I can know God by my understanding of CGB theories.” In fact the BC implies that man, blinded by sin, doesn’t successfully come to know God by the first means: therefore he needs a second means, the holy and divine Word.

It seems to me that those who use CGB (big bang, old earth, primitive parents) theories as their interpretive framework, are no longer allowing classic reformed and confessional understanding of scripture to govern their hermeneutics. And they shouldn’t be afraid to admit it.

Jon Dykstra said...

As regards the claim that chimps and man have 99 per cent the same DNA, see below, as it just isn't so. Why should I trust the supposedly overwhelming evidence for evolution over against the plain meaning of Scripture when I see instances like this, again and again, where scientists use evolutionary assumptions to formulate the very data they then use to "prove" evolution?

http://www.icr.org/article/4624/

dennis said...

"It seems to me that those who use CGB (big bang, old earth, primitive parents) theories as their interpretive framework, are no longer allowing classic reformed and confessional understanding of scripture to govern their hermeneutics. And they shouldn’t be afraid to admit it." Hi John,

One could also say that the Canadian Reformed churches have also departed from Calvin's geocentric views and adopted heliocentrism. (Which, for the record, I think was a good move - there, I admit I've parted ways with some of Calvin's theology.)

Do you think abandoning Calvin's geocentrism was a good idea? If so, why? If not, why not?


“Since the Genesis account doesn’t square with my understanding of cosmology, geology, and biology, (CGB) then Genesis is not historical.” But that reasoning places human understanding of CGB at the same level as the Bible (or even above it), and that means the Bible is read through the “spectacles of nature” instead of nature being read through the “spectacles of scripture.” " One other comment: you seem to be implying that the Genesis narratives need no interpretation - that their meaning is self evident (and contradictory to modern science).

I would agree that modern science is in conflict with your interpretation of Genesis, but I am unconvinced that this manner of interpretation is the correct one, even when approaching Genesis on its own turf, apart from science.

Dennis Venema

John van Popta said...

Dennis writes


One other comment: you seem to be implying that the Genesis narratives need no interpretation - that their meaning is self evident (and contradictory to modern science).


I didn't say that (or perhaps better) I didn't mean that at all.


The point I tried to make is this. I think that a sound Reformed hermeneutic says that we must use the Scripture to interpret and frame our understanding of the world, rather than use our theories of cosmology, geology and biology to interpret and frame our understanding of God's Word.

I know that there are many Christians who use their CGB theories as the paradigm in which they interpret the Bible, but I think that hermeneutic is a wrong one. That hermeneutical model places human scientific theory and achievement above the Word of God.


Of course the Bible is to be interpreted and applied. Very little is "self evident." If it were, there wouldn't be a market for commentaries!

One point about the “Calvin and heliocentricicty” comment you made: Here is an interesting paper written on the topic by a Notre Dame prof, called “Calvin and the Astronomical Revolution”; it’s worth a read.

http://www.nd.edu/~mdowd1/postings/CalvinAstroRev.html

dennis said...

As regards the claim that chimps and man have 99 per cent the same DNA, see below, as it just isn't so. Hi Jon,

The ICR article is very misleading. I don't know how else to put it. The nucleotide identity between humans and chimps over 2700 Mb (megabases) of DNA is ~ 1.23% different. To quote from the Princess Bride, "Anyone who says differently is selling something."

The ICR article is an extreme example of cherry-picking data. Yes, if I zero in on a tiny part of the genome, I could find areas that are very different. That doesn't change the reality that the overall picture is overwhelmingly identical. That's like a student arguing he didn't plagiarize because one of his sentences is a little different than his source despite overwhelming correspondence, line for line, paragraph for paragraph, chapter for chapter!

As as aside, thanks for the link to that article. I'm working on a paper on how antievolutionary organizations misrepresent human : chimp comparisons, and I hadn't yet found that exact one from ICR.

If you want to see a scholarly interaction with the human : chimp data from a YEC perspective, see Todd Wood's article here:

http://www.bryancore.org/anniversary/building.html

Todd's paper is in a link at the bottom of the page that says "Image of God, or Image of Man?" Todd also discusses previous Creationist responses to human : chimp genomic similarity in his article and finds them wanting.

"Why should I trust the supposedly overwhelming evidence for evolution over against the plain meaning of Scripture when I see instances like this, again and again, where scientists use evolutionary assumptions to formulate the very data they then use to "prove" evolution?" I would say that you haven't seen anything of the kind. You've read at best a misguided, incorrect interpretation of the data from an organization with a vested antievolutionary stance.

Evolutionary biologists are often accused of "cooking the data to fit their presuppositions." Let's just say that I find that accusation highly ironic coming from certain antievolutionary organizations and leave it at that.

Why not have a go at Todd's paper and tell me what you think. If you're going to criticize evolution from a YEC perspective you should at least see what the leading genomicist from a YEC viewpoint has to say.

Best,

Dennis Venema

George van Popta said...

Thanks, Jon Dykstra, for that link. Interesting and quite easy to understand for a layman like me.
George van Popta

dennis said...

John, I'm still curious: Do you think abandoning geocentrism was a good idea? If so, why? It was the uniform interpretation of the church for centuries. Should we reinterpret Scripture based on evidence for heliocentrism?

Dennis Venema

George van Popta said...

I'd like to link back to what was written earlier and to the title of the original post: "Man made from the dust of the ground."

Dr. Van der Meer wrote: "But other biblical scholars reject the literal ‘potter’ interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay?"

The question nagging me is "Why would believing that God formed man from the earth like a potter be close to disrespect?" Disrespect of whom? Of God or of man?

BC 12 says: "We believe that the Father through the Word, that is, through His Son, has created out of nothing heaven and earth and all creatures, when it seemed good to Him, and that He has given to every creature its being, shape, and form…." What did Guido de Bres mean when he wrote that? What did our spiritual fathers of the Synod of Dort, 1618-19, mean when they said, "Guido got it right"? I don't think that either Guido nor our fathers saw those words freighted with philosophical language. God gave each creature its being (existence), its shape and form. I rather think that Guido and our fathers did an end run around Darwin several hundred years before Darwin was born. Each creature does not have its being, shape and form due to an evolutionary process but by the Word of God.

What did Guido and our fathers mean when they said, "We believe that God created man of dust from the ground"? Did Guido and our fathers mean that God shaped man like a potter shapes a vessel? I think so. And they said that upon the basis of sound biblical exegesis.

George vP

Jon Dykstra said...

On one hand I don't really care how similar our DNA might be to chimps, because whatever the number (1%,2%,4%,10%...) it will always be trumpeted as evidence of evolution.

On the other hand, this 99% number is a bit bothersome, because rhetorically, it is a figure that makes some noise. Like the homosexual claim of 10 per cent, it is commonly used because of its rhetorical effectiveness.

Dennis Venema's figure of 1.23% notes only DNA "changed" between chimps and Man, and doesn't count DNA that was present in Man and entirely absent in chimps, or DNA present in chimps and entirely absent in Man. Including those numbers would double or even quadruple the 1.23%. Others have calculated numbers that are lower still.

Is this significant? Theologically and scientifically, no. Geneticist and evolutionist Steve Jones once quipped, "We also share about 50 per cent of our DNA with bananas and that doesn't make us half bananas, either from the waist up or the waist down."

Rhetorically though, there seems some significance.

John van Popta said...

Dennis asks if I think it is a good thing that we all accept the heliocentric model of the universe and why?

I learned much from two teacher friends of mine.

Walter van der Kamp (1913-199 and Dr. John Byl of Trinity Western Univ.

John Byl’s taught me of the instrumental use of scientific theory. “Kampee” taught me that we need not simply accept the geocentric model of Copernicus and Galileo. Here is a link. Happy reading.

http://www.geocentricity.com/bibastron/ts_history/history1.html

Arnold Sikkema said...

The Wood paper which Dennis refers to is a bit hard to find, so I have dug up a direct link.

dennis said...

Thanks Arnold! Always nice to have links that are no longer missing.

:)

Dennis Venema

all kidding aside, if there is an easy way to post links into comments I would love to know how to do it - unless it is reserved for blog administrators.

Arnold Sikkema said...

In George’s latest comment, he says near the end, “Each creature does not have its being, shape and form due to an evolutionary process but by the Word of God.”

This, I believe, is a false dichotomy. Let me explain.

I would like to recommend for your consideration my journal article entitled “Laws of Nature and God’s Word for Creation” (see “collected papers” in the sidebar). In this article, I quote Vern Poythress (Reformed theologian and mathematician, author of Redeeming Science, and of the new website www.thetruthaboutangelsanddemons.com ) as saying “What we call scientific law is an approximate human description of just how faithfully and consistently God acts in ruling the world by speaking.” And I unpack the meaning of that by considering the law of gravity as an example.

Why does an apple fall when its stem breaks? Well, on the one hand we can say that there is a law of gravity, a natural process by which the earth pulls on the apple. This is a scientific description, and has been developed by Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Einstein. On the other we can say that the apple obeys God, who speaks the apple into its being and behaviour by His Word. This is the kind of obedience to the Word of God which we see depicted beautifully in Psalm 148, as in v. 8, “Stormy wind, fulfilling His word” (NIV), and is a non-scientific, theological description. Both descriptions are true and accurate; we don’t have to choose between these two explanations, for they cohere with one another while they are seen differently in different contexts (scientific or theological).

Closely related to this, Herman said in another thread, citing Hebrews 11:3 (“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” [NIV]), that “God’s commands are obeyed at once!!!” This is a somewhat problematic view when we consider the falling apple. God commands the apple to fall to the ground. But does it immediately impact the earth? No, there is a process of at first nearly constant acceleration from being approximately at rest, and as the speed of the apple increases, air resistance increases and reduces the acceleration somewhat, and finally the apple hits the earth, compresses the grass and soil which depending on their elasticity return the apple upward a little in what is commonly called a bounce. Finally, due (mainly) to the incomplete elasticity of the ground, the apple’s initial gravitational potential energy has been completely transformed to thermal energy, as described by the second law of thermodynamics, and the apple rests upon the earth. So, the processes of gravity, air resistance, thermodynamics, etc. are participated in by the apple as it obeys, in time, the command of the Lord.

There is thus no need to see a dichotomy between a “process” and “the Word of God” in this context. Not that the “process” is the Word of God, but the way in which the Word of God is obeyed by the non-human creation can be seen by us within the creation as a process.

[two more paragraphs coming...]

Arnold Sikkema said...

[continued...]

To give another example, Psalm 29 describes the powerful majesty of a thunderstorm. In that Psalm, we read, “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars” (v. 5, NIV) among many other references to the “voice of the LORD”. (We often read that Psalm when taking shelter in our basement as tornado warnings were issued several times per summer during our stint in Iowa.) We need not regard meteorology as giving a false description of how differential solar heating, humidity, adiabatic expansion, latent heat of vapourization, compressible fluid dynamics all represent the detailed process of the thunderstorm. Again we have here two complementary, not contradictory, descriptions.

In Rev. 4:11, we join the 24 elders in praising God: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” We acknowledge all things in creation as being created by God, and we also know of so many things in creation as having scientifically well understood origins, like babies, hybrid corn, and Hawaii. A scientific theory describing a process does not take away one iota from God’s creative Word. In fact, it can deepen our appreciation of God’s covenant faithfulness to His creation.

Tony Jelsma said...

Jon Dykstra said with regard to our 98-99% similarity in DNA sequences with chimps, "Is this significant? Theologically and scientifically, no... Rhetorically though, there seems some significance."

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. When Biblical scholars compare manuscripts of Scripture, one of the things they do is look for differences between them. If two manuscripts share what appear to be "typos" then it is valid to assume they're related. By comparing several manuscripts one can tell with reasonable confidence which manuscript is closer to the original, which has been copied and where the typo first appeared.
The same method applies when comparing DNA sequences. If two functional DNA sequences are very similar, that may not say very much about common ancestry, but when two "typos" are shared, that is a much stronger argument, both scientifically and rhetorically. That's exactly what we see when we compare the human and chimp DNA sequences.

As Dennis mentioned earlier, it would be great if the scientific evidence did not point to common ancestry and an old earth. Then we wouldn't be having all these arguments. Unfortunately it doesn't.

I was hoping that by this point we could get past arguing about DNA sequence similarities and move on to discussing the theological implications. I make a distinction between common ancestry and Darwinian evolution. The former is a necessary but not sufficient part of Darwinian evolution.

I have several questions about the genetic differences between humans and chimps but I don't know if we're ready to deal with them yet.

Jitse van der Meer said...

This is a response to George van Popta's June 2 question.

George,

The comment that you quote needs to be read in its context. Then you will see (1) that it is not my view, but that of others, and (2) that it was a guess on my part as to what might have been the problem you were having. In short, this is not my view.

Jitse

Fritz said...

From JVP's last post:
"I learned much from two teacher friends of mine ..."
I find it hard to figure out how a guy who's had a one-on-one tour of TRIUMF (a particle accelerator at UBC) by a close CanRC friend who works there, and has seen first-hand how billions of dollars are invested in a machine who's design is predicated on the theory of special relativity being correct can defend such a view. I know I'm not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, so could you please explain how that works? I took a bit of physics in my day, but that's over twenty years ago, and maybe things have changed since then. I figure the most exciting things in physics happen when it turns out our understanding of physical reality is inadequate, so, instead of referring everyone to what one dead guy allegedly said concerning Galileo etc, could you actually explain how all this works? I'm really curious!

And, here's what I think is so contradictory when theologians start to endorse all kinds of quackery in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary:
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete."
--1 John 1 : 1-4
On the one hand, how am I supposed to accept the evidence of John's eye witness testimony concerning the humanity of Jesus with its appeal to the trustworthiness of the human capacity to apprehend physical reality, and on the other hand, disregard/ignore/reject the evidence put forward by science? How is that consistent?
-- Fritz Dewit

John van Popta said...

In late April I posted the following to this thread:

Quote:

I wonder whether suggesting that Adam and Eve had primitive parents, or as Dr. Vandermeer suggests, that man and chimpanzees have common ancestors, can be harmonized with Jesus words on marriage when he quotes Adam. We hear Jesus saying, “From the beginning it was not so…” Was Jesus mistaken that Adam was at the beginning? What about the fall into sin? Was Paul wrong about the entrance of sin in the garden? Is the confession wrong when it says, “God came seeking man when he trembling fled from him?” Did Adam exist? Was he an historical creature, with Eve, in a garden? Did a snake talk? Was there a prohibition on eating from a certain tree?

end quote:

I really am curious about the answers to these questions. Do those who teach that “Adam and Eve had primitive parents”, teach that Adam and Eve really existed? And that the account of the Fall, the entrance of death into human history, the expulsion from the garden and the angel guarding the way to the Tree of Life, is historically accurate. I'm honestly trying to get my head around this.

Did God use a Big Bang, an old earth, and evolutionary processes to finally get to two creatures, Adam and Eve, who in some way were endowed with "image of God" and who then subsequently (after being born in normal biological ways) were in a Garden for some time before disobeying the injunction not to eat of the TKGE? Or is this account metaphorical?

If it is historically accurate (an account of what actually happened in time and space), then what hermeneutical framework and what exegetical tools do we need to use in order to bifurcate the account of creation of man and the universe which is a metaphorical presentation, and the fall into sin which is a presentation of time and space history?

Where is the break? Genesis 2:8? But that can’t be, because there we read that God put “the man he had formed” in the garden. So it must be 2:9. But there does not seem to be a change in genre between 2:4-8 and 2:9. In fact it is pretty clear that it is all part of the same pericope.

So help me understand what tools are used to separate the account of the creation of man from the account of the fall of man.

Now, of course you might say, that the account of the fall of man is “metaphorical too.” But then I’d like to interact with that as well.

Arnold Sikkema said...

John van Popta cites John Byl’s instrumentalism, and we will probably return to that topic, especially if Dr. Byl responds to Broussard’s pieces which are featured in our discussion of antirealism.

I respond to John’s additional citation of van der Kamp in a new blog posting. That is where any further discussion of geocentrism should go.

Jitse van der Meer said...

Jon Dykstra recommended the following publication:

Tomkins, J. 2009. Human-Chimp Similarities: Common Ancestry or Flawed Research? Acts & Facts. 38 (6): 12.

This paper is an example of what I consider a serious problem and that is the massive amounts of unrefereed misinformation available on the web. Some of this gets thrown at us as in the material submitted. I do not blame you for it because you are not in a position to separate nonsense from substance. Most of us find ourselves in that position from time to time.

What I would ask though is that before you or anybody else submits something you make at least a serious effort to find an opposing opinion from an expert. If you cannot understand it you cannot assess it and it would be better to leave it alone. The piece by Jeffrey comes from the ICR and they do have a long and distinguished record of distortion and misinformation.

I glanced through Jeffrey's paper and here is just one example from paragraph 4. He writes,

"To assemble these DNA fragments into contiguous sections that represented large regions of chromosomes, the human genome was used as a guide or framework to anchor and orient the chimp sequence. Thus, the evolutionary assumption of a supposed ape to human transition was used to assemble the otherwise random chimp genome."

My comment: the conclusion does not follow. Comparing DNA sequences between any two organisms does not involve evolutionary assumptions because the comparison could come out negative.

My impression is that he tries to make this conclusion acceptable by describing the procedure of comparing chimp and human chromosomes as biased because researchers presumably preselect DNA fragments from Chimp and human DNA so that they are similar and then compare them to show that they are similar. And so on. One wonders how Jeffrey explains that genomic comparison shows up progressively fewer similarities when the genomes are compared of organisms that are progressively less related based on old-fashioned anatomical criteria. On Jeffrey,s assertions this should not happen.

When I come across logic like this I don't keep reading. I have better things to do.

Jitse van der Meer

Reformed Academic said...

This is in response to John van Popta's comment of 10:43am today.

We are all in agreement with all of Scripture and the Reformed confessions, including notably that Adam and Eve were real humans, in a real Eden with real trees (including a real tree of the knowledge of good and evil), and upon a real temptation by the real devil in the form of a real snake, really sinned, so there was a real Fall.

T. Jelsma, F.G. Oosterhoff, A.E. Sikkema, J. van der Meer

Arnold Sikkema said...

This is a response to Jon Dykstra’s comment:

Is the following a proper Reformed perspective upon encountering evidence which one finds unsettling?

1. Find a refuting source which allows you to claim the evidence is plain wrong.
2. When the refuting source is exposed as thoroughly misleading, dismiss the original evidence as being only rhetorical.
3. Cite a nifty joke about a quite unrelated case.

Why not admit up front that you don’t care one whit what the evidence is? See Tony’s post on this.

Dennis Venema said...

I continue to hope for some interaction between us all on Todd Wood's paper. For anyone willing to look at it (and thanks, Arnold, for providing a direct link) I think it could go a long way to explaining why many Christian scientists have concluded that common descent is correct. I realize Wood is not writing from a Reformed perspective, but YECs who are trained in genomics are as rare as hen's teeth (in fact, he is the only one I am aware of). He does, however, fully hold to a young earth, anti-evolutionary stance and he unashamedly professes Christian faith. I think his ideas would be useful to discuss for anyone interested in learning about modern biology and how it relates to the question of common ancestry. The paper is not written at too technical a level that a non-specialist cannot grasp its concepts.

I also continue to be hopeful that this blog can be a place where those who disagree can yet seek to discuss and learn from each other. Yes, we might find one another's views highly suspect and theologically problematic. Yes, we may question each other's orthodoxy. That's a risk I'm willing to take. However, it is certain we will never learn anything if we only converse with those whom we already agree.

Blessings, all.

Dennis Venema