Why I Am A Christian (#9): The Creation and Fall as Satisfying Explanation of the Observable World

‘Adam and Eve’ by Frans Floris (in the Uffizi Gallery). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_and_Eve_by_Frans_Floris.jpg
‘Adam and Eve’ by Frans Floris (in the Uffizi Gallery). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adam_and_Eve_by_Frans_Floris.jpg

[<<] [Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [>>]

The Christian faith is not infrequently derided as irrational, delusional, fairyland. Though such arguments are sometimes made in an intellectually vigorous manner, I would argue that at least as often such arguments are made facilely, and without any proper understanding of what Christianity claims or teaches.

In spite of such attacks on the Christian faith (intellectually vigorous or otherwise), I remain a believing Christian, convinced of the truth of God’s revealed word, the Bible. In this series of eleven posts, I outline some of the reasons why I still find the Christian faith compelling and convincing.

Reason #9: The Creation and Fall as Satisfying Explanation of the Observable World

“It is my belief that Genesis 1—3, far from being a reason to reject Christianity, is in fact a powerful reason for believing in the truth of Christianity. In my view, these chapters provide a much more satisfying and realistic explanation of ‘why the world is like it is’ than many modern so-called attempts to explain the world we live in.”

The Bible’s two accounts of the creation of the world, in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, together with its account of the creation of the first people, Adam and Eve, and their fall from communion with God in Genesis chapter 3, are frequently used as reasons to bash Christianity as utter, moronic foolishness, and those who adhere to it as utter, moronic fools.

(The argument is, of course, bashing Judaism at the same time — since Genesis 1—3 is a shared sacred text between Judaism and Christianity.)

However, it is my belief that Genesis 1—3, far from being a reason to reject Christianity, is in fact a powerful reason for believing in the truth of Christianity. I say this because, in my view, these chapters provide a much more satisfying and realistic explanation of ‘why the world is like it is’ than many modern so-called attempts to explain the world we live in.

In what follows I explain why.

Some remarks on Genesis 1—3

Let us begin by making one or two observations about what we have in Genesis 1—3.

First, it is clear that in chapters 1—2 we have two distinct accounts of how the world came to be.

The Genesis 1 account (actually 1:1—2:3 but we’ll call it ‘Genesis 1’ for short) uses the temporal structure of ‘days,’ so that God completes the work of creation in six days and then rests on the seventh.

“It is widely assumed that Christians down the centuries have always read Genesis 1—2 as strictly literal accounts of the process of creation — and that therefore the advent of Darwinian evolution has ‘blown up’ any claim by Christians to have a rationally-grounded faith. On the contrary, however: Well over a millennium before Charles Darwin, Christian theologians were questioning whether the creation accounts in Genesis should be treated as literal accounts.”

The Genesis 2 account (actually 2:4-25), by contrast, uses the locative structure of a ‘garden’ (the Garden of Eden), and focusses on the creation of the first man (Adam) and his wife (Eve), and their relationship to the Lord God, to the animals, and to their environment.

It seems clear that these two accounts originally came from different sources. The Genesis 1 account uses ‘God’ throughout, whereas the Genesis 2 account uses the combination name ‘LORD God’ throughout (a combination which in the Old Testament is almost unique to Genesis chapters 2—3[1]). But the two distinct accounts were together in ancient times so as to provide complementary angles on the same creation event.

Secondly, it is widely assumed that Christians down the centuries have always read Genesis 1—2 as strictly literal accounts of the process of creation — and that therefore the advent of Darwinian evolution has ‘blown up’ any claim by Christians to have a rationally-grounded faith.

On the contrary, however: Well over a millennium before Charles Darwin, Christian theologians were questioning whether the creation accounts in Genesis should be treated as literal accounts.

So the great Christian theologian Origen (A.D. 185—254), in his De Principiis (‘On First Principles’), writes:

Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars — the first day even without a sky?  And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil?  No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.[2],[3]

“Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354—430) questioned whether we should regard the ‘days’ of Genesis 1 as denoting passages of time, and not rather as denoting events, changes of state. He goes on say explicitly, that we cannot take the ‘days’ of Genesis 1 in the conventional, human sense of the word.”

Likewise, the North African Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354—430), in his work ‘On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis,’ written A.D. 401—415,[4] questioned whether we should regard the “days” of Genesis 1 as denoting passages of time, and not rather as denoting events, changes of state.[5]

He goes on say explicitly, that we cannot take the “days” of Genesis 1 in the conventional, human sense of the word.[6] On the contrary, the “day” of Genesis 1 is “beyond the experience and knowledge of us mortal earthbound men.”[7]

So that the idea that Christians have always treated the Genesis 1—2 accounts as literal, until Darwinian evolution came along, is simply not true; many Christians even from Roman times have viewed these accounts as primarily encoding spiritual truths.[8]

A simple truth from the Genesis 1 account

Having cleared away some of the interpretative débris that usually prevents us from seeing these texts for what they’re actually saying, let’s see what they are actually saying.

Whether one interprets the Genesis 1 account as a literal rendering of the process of creation or not, either way it is conveying a very simple truth:—

The world and everything in it was created by God and belongs to him.

To me, this is the primary point of the Genesis 1 account, and its main authorial intent — the ‘literal interpretation’ in Augustine’s sense.[9] This simple truth is far more important to understanding the text, than whether the world was created in six days or in six billion years. Quite simply, it is his world.

Three simple truths from the Genesis 2 account

Likewise, from the Genesis 2 account, clear away the débris and we have three very simple truths:

  1. Mankind was created to be in relationship with the LORD God (verses 15-17);
  1. Mankind was given authority to harness the animal kingdom for his use, and to rule over it (verses 18-20);[10]
  1. Mankind was created to be in relationship with one another — specifically, in the relationship of marriage (verses 20-25).[11]

The Genesis 2 account presents mankind in his halcyon state — the paradise that probably none of us have felt during our adult lives, perhaps some of us only in the innocence of childhood.[12] Most of us don’t know this state in any present sense — yet there is in all of us a longing for it, as of something once known (even if only subconsciously).

A simple truth from Genesis 3

If Genesis 2 presents mankind in its paradisal state, then Genesis 3 portrays the great cataclysm of the human race: the Fall, the rebellion of mankind against God.

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Genesis 3:7

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
Genesis 3:1-7[13]

The result of this act of mutiny is that the man and the woman (Adam and Eve) are discovered, are cursed by the LORD God along with the serpent and the whole creation (of which mankind is the head, and for which he bears responsibility), and are cast out of the Garden to live a life of toil and sweat.

Genesis 1—3 as satisfying explanation of the observable world

To the atheist and skeptic, the above tales may seem like absurdities only to worthy to be believed by village idiots. However — whether one takes them as literal accounts or not — I believe they provide a true and realistic framework for understanding the world in which we live.

“Both the great historical advancements of human capability and the great human ideological disasters, are testament to this longing in the human psyche for the ‘paradise out there.’ This is Genesis 2, lived out (or rather, reached out for, both brilliantly and tragically) in the fallen human world.”

Firstly, as noted earlier, we all long for something that is beyond the present circumstance. Humankind has an intrinsic belief in the existence of “something better” (something paradisal, as viewed from the current perspective) out there, waiting to be explored.[14]

This intrinsic belief in something better ‘out there’, the ‘Ideal,’ often leads to great advances in human capability — our understanding of the solar system, of the atom, of gravity, to name a few — but also (and as often) tragically to great acts of evil — Nazi Germany, the Gulags of the Soviet Union, the killing fields of Cambodia. Nevertheless, both the great historical advancements of human capability and the great human ideological disasters, are testament to this longing in the human psyche for the ‘paradise out there.’ This is Genesis 2, lived out (or rather, reached out for, both brilliantly and tragically) in the fallen human world.

Likewise, the Genesis 3 account of the fall of humanity makes great sense of what we see in the world around us.

As we look around us, we see an unending catalogue of human tragedy and depravity. We see society divided — not just in gracious disagreement, but all too often in bitter hatred and recrimination. We see the misery and suffering caused by pointless, zero-sum wars. We see mankind’s inability to look after our planet properly — and our global political failure to adapt appropriately even when the terrible consequences of our mismanagement are shown to us.

“This human capacity for evil, callousness, and irrational behaviour, is all latent in the Genesis 3 account. Genesis 3 tells us, in effect: ‘We are all capable of doing the thing that is both evil and irrational, even when placed within ideal conditions.’ That is a depressing diagnosis but it is the truth.”

We see mankind’s ability to act irrationally. A couple of minutes browsing the home page of the BBC website these days will, on any given day, reveal ‘news’ stories about what somebody (usually somebody famous) said via Twitter. Not infrequently these stories highlight people’s innate capacity to say something ridiculous — as well as the equal capacity of the Twitterati to defend the ridiculous.

And what of the recent arrests (here and here) in the UK of people merely for saying things?

This human capacity for evil, callousness, and irrational behaviour, is all latent in the Genesis 3 account. Genesis 3 tells us, in effect: “We are all capable of doing the thing that is both evil and irrational, even when placed within ideal conditions.” That is a depressing diagnosis but it is the truth.

And the fact that Genesis 3 tells us what the world is like now, makes it a far more satisfying explanation for the world than many of the human ideologies that have come and gone throughout history.

For instance, in spite of the widespread belief that science and education would eventually solve the world’s problems — we’re now well into the 21st century and the human story seems only to have replaced one set of intractable problems with another.

“Human history is surely now sufficiently developed to show that no political system, no ideology, no technological advancement, no form of social contract, is going to solve the world’s problems. For whatever human creativity develops, as a species we keep hitting our heads against the fact that our deepest problem is ourselves.”

Again, the idea that mankind is basically good, and is only coerced into doing wrong by the evil inherent in the class system (i.e., the Communist ideology) — again, the 20th century has shown the failure of this position.

Even the idea of democracy — an idea so cherished and held unquestioned throughout the Western world — is showing signs of severe strain in a great many highly developed nations, not least in the UK.

Human history is surely now sufficiently developed to show that no political system, no ideology, no technological advancement, no form of social contract, is going to solve the world’s problems. For whatever human creativity develops, as a species we keep hitting our heads against the fact that our deepest problem is ourselves.

This fundamental truth about human nature is right there in Genesis 3, and in spite of millennia of creative endeavour the human race really still hasn’t escaped from it (however much we might try to deny that fact). That’s why — in spite of the constant mockery of atheists — I do find the Genesis accounts of the creation and fall a deeply satisfying explanation of why the world is as it is.

*        *        *

In the next instalment in this series, we will consider a quite different reason for holding the Christian faith to be true: the testimony of the changed lives of ordinary people.

[<<] [Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [>>]

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] D. A. Carson, ed., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), p.62.

[2] Origen, De Principiis, 4.1.16. From Rev. Alexander Roberts, D.D., James Donaldson, LL.D., and A. Cleveland Coxe, D.D., eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of The Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. 4: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, repr, vol. 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, Edinburgh; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994), p.365. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.vi.v.v.i.html

[3] Other relevant passages are: Origen, De Principiis, 4.1.15 (ibid., p.364; same URL as in note 2); Origen, Against Celsus, 6.60 (ibid., pp.600-601; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.vi.ix.vi.lx.html).

[4] St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, vol. 41, Ancient Christian Writers, no. 41-42 (New York, N.Y: Newman Press, 1982), p.4.

[5] Ibid., 4.1.1; in St. Augustine, 41: pp.103–4.

[6] Ibid., 4.26.43—4.28.45; in St. Augustine, 41: pp.133–36.

[7] Ibid., 4.27.44; in St. Augustine, 41: p.135.

[8] It is worthy of note that when Augustine of Hippo entitles his work ‘On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis,’ by a ‘literal’ definition he doesn’t mean the assumption that something narrated happened literally as described; rather he means to interpret “in the sense intended by the author” (https://sharedveracity.net/2015/07/31/saint-augustine-on-the-literal-interpretation-of-genesis/). This is as opposed to an ‘allegorical’ interpretation, which would therefore be assigning meanings to a text of Scripture which the author of that Scripture text didn’t intend. (See also the comment of St. Basil the Great, from his Homily IX.1, in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretations_of_Genesis#Days_of_creation.)

[9] See note 8.

[10] Note, I do not believe this implies mankind’s right to exploit the animal kingdom; the language of Genesis 2:15, “took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it,” implies responsible care of the creation he rules over.

[11] Note, this is not to imply that marriage is the only truly legitimate or satisfying adult state. Rather, it is the normal unit of organization for society — the basis on which mankind exists harmoniously in relationship in community. In the New Testament, both Jesus himself and then subsequently Paul come along and re-write the meaning of marriage for the Christian believer, in the process giving new and exalted status to singleness (see Matthew 19:1-12 (Jesus) and 1 Corinthians 7 (Paul)).

[12] See, e.g., Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp.221–22.

[13] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+3%3A1-7&version=ESVUK

[14] Peterson, Maps of Meaning, pp.26–29.

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