January 20, 2018

A Hermeneutic of Suspicion

In my new book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity (Pacific Press, 2017), I attempt to free people from the popular myth that at the expression “But it’s science!” all recalcitrant views must be repented of and recanted, even if the science in question contradicts any honest interpretation of Scripture.

My position, caricatured by one critic as “scientific nihilism,” led to an online discussion (atoday.org/skewed-imbalanced-unfair-cliff-goldstein-responds-to-our-review-of-baptizing-the-devil/) that degenerated mostly into personal insults. However, amid the ad hominem attacks on yours truly, my critics ignored (and understandably so) a key point in the book.

Let’s assume the experts—the biologists, physicists, chemists, geologists, paleontologists, whoever—are correct. Billions of years ago, in a shallow pool, or in a thermal vent, or in shale, or somewhere on a primitive earth, inorganic molecules morphed not only into life but into life that could self-replicate. Then, according to peer-reviewed literature, through random mutation and natural selection, this early life evolved into everything from trilobites to human moral consciousness.

If this model were true, then from the start the Word of God is false, and the first few chapters of Genesis, which purport to reveal our origins, reveal not only nothing correct about our origins but are so far off that (to commandeer a phrase from another scientific debate) they’re “not even wrong.”

Now, I can imagine eyes rolling like reels in a slot machine. Poor Goldstein doesn’t understand that the creation account isn’t to be taken literally. It’s symbolic, a simple story that portrays deeper truths, much like the parables Jesus told.

Let’s concede that point to the critics, too: The Genesis creation account is parabolic. Which would mean what? Well, the Lord told a story about a six-day creation, with everything perfectly planned, and with each species created separately (“after its own kind”), but He told it as a parable, a symbol of a creation that really took billions of years, that was really random, and in which all creatures really had one common organic ancestor. In other words, the parable taught the opposite of what it represented.

If that’s true, then we might as well interpret Jesus’ parables, all based on true stories, in radically new ways. We might as well interpret the Parable of the Prodigal Son to mean that once someone walks away from the Lord, the Lord will never take that person back. Or the Parable of the Lost Sheep to mean that if someone gets lost, God will do nothing to bring him home. Or the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant that, just because God forgives our sins, it doesn’t mean that we’re obligated in any way to forgive others what they have done to us.

If Genesis were a parable about evolution, it did one lousy job.

Meanwhile, look at how literally and precisely Old Testament texts are interpreted and applied in the New Testament. Matthew 2:13-15 applied an obscure text, Hosea 11:1, in an exceedingly literal and precise way to Jesus. John 19:31-37 applied Zechariah 12:10 literally to Jesus as well. Jesus Himself, in John 13:18, applied Psalm 41:9 (“Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me”) literally, and precisely, to Judas.

And yet some scholars apply a hermeneutic in which the first 11 chapters of Genesis, up until Abraham (though some include him as well)—texts that set the entire theological foundation of Scripture (the New Testament, too)—are allegorical, parabolic only? Jesus applies Psalm 41:9 literally, but we’re supposed to allegorize the biblical account of origins, of the fall, of the flood, and of human dispersion over the earth?

A suspicious hermeneutic, to be sure.

Also, some branches of science and mathematics encounter a challenge called the “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” the notion that a change, an error, no matter how slight early in a system can lead to massive and unpredictable (though not random) changes later. The notion has been popularized as “The Butterfly Effect,” the belief that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America could cause a tornado in Texas six weeks later.

Now, if the hermeneutic that allegorizes Genesis into a parable about evolution is false, then the “initial conditions” for interpreting Scripture are not just slightly wrong but radically so, which would mean what at the other end?

First, no six-day creation, which makes the fourth commandment, the seventh-day Sabbath, suspect at best. It also means that God’s law, written with His own finger, is a lie, ironic given that a few commands later we’re commanded not to lie.

A sinless Adam is impossible, the fall, too. With refreshing honesty, theistic evolutionist Dennis Lamoureux wrote: “First, Adam never existed. . . . Second, Adam never actually sinned because he never existed. Consequently, sin did not enter the world on account of Adam. Third, Adam was never judged by God to suffer and die.”

Of course, Paul’s theology is that Christ at the first coming undid what Adam ruined in the fall. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22), a nonsensical stance if no Adam who fell existed to begin with. Thus, if scientists are correct, Paul’s theology is as false and unhistorical as Genesis 1-3 itself.

Without an Adam who fell into sin, Christ’s first coming becomes a non-event, which makes the Second Coming problematic, does it not? According to the New Testament, the Second Coming consummates what Christ accomplished at His first. But if the first coming could not have done what Scripture says it did, then why believe what it says about the Second, especially when it says that at the Second the dead—some now scattered molecules only—will be raised from the dust in the “twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52)? But if God could supernaturally recreate humans from the dust that way at the second creation, why didn’t He do it that way at the first one, just as His Word says He did?

Finally, will the creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13) be, as promised, a supernatural act of God? Or will the world again endure billions of years of violence, suffering, and death? If God is going to create the earth the second time in the same manner that we’re assured by science He did at the first, then one could justifiably respond, Thanks, Lord, but no thanks.

In short, if evolution were true, Christianity must be false, and we might as well believe in Richard Dawkins’ flying spaghetti monster as to believe in the Bible.

Are you saying, then, Cliff, that most of the experts—the biologists, the chemists, the paleontologists, the geologists, et. al.—are wrong? That’s precisely what I’m saying, and Baptizing the Devil explains why.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity has just been released by Pacific Press.