February 17, 2023

Taking Words Out of God's Mouth

Clifford Goldstein

In one of my past Review articles, entitled “How Many Lies?” I reiterated a theme that I’ve been pumping for decades: if evolution were true, the Bible is false. Period. 

Rich Hannon soon replied with a piece called, “Putting Words in God’s Mouth,” in which he depicted my column “as problematic as I have ever read in recent years from a traditional Adventist apologist.” However much he disdained my article, I appreciated his attempt “to disambiguate man from message,” which (for the most part) he did. And, however much disdaining his response, I will (for the most part) do the same. 

The “Messy” Thought 

Hannon early on addresses the question of God’s infallibility in contrast to human fallibility. God is infallible, humans are not, which means that all human attempts to interpret God’s message “must necessarily be open to revision, since our conclusions are fallible.” Fair enough; our conclusions as readers are, yes, fallible. 

However, he also writes: “Thus, God-statements are assured truth. But things quickly get messy. Christians assert that the Bible is inspired, thus it is infused—in some way—by God. Believers disagree somewhat on what such infusion entails. Is it inerrancy?” Though he doesn’t openly pursue this thought—focusing instead on the interpreter’sunderstanding of the text as opposed to the “inspiration” of the text itself—the “messy” thought, that of just how biblical inspiration works, hovers in the background. For any theistic evolutionist, it must.  

The Original Audience

OK, human interpretation of the text remains fallible. Obviously. But one reason for that fallibility, he writes, is that we are not reading the text in “the original audience’s conceptual ‘universe.’” However, Rich Hannon has the solution. “This takes the work of trustworthy scholarship to uncover.” And who might some of this “trustworthy scholarship” be to help uncover the “the original audience’s conceptual ‘universe’”? 

He points to two works, The Lost World of Genesis One, by John Walton, and God, Sky & Land, by Fritz Guy and Brian Bull. Though he stated that my essay “argues as if such materials didn’t exist,” I had, in fact, read both books long before I wrote the essay.

In God, Sky & Land, we have two southern California liberals who, somehow, are in a position to uncover the worldview of a second millennium BC audience. And surprise of surprises—that worldview just happens to fit with their twenty-first century neo-Darwinian perspective.

God, Sky & Land, however, was better than Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One. The seven days of creation, Walton assures readers, are not about the making of our physical world. They are, instead, “the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple, and perhaps also its annual reenactment.”1 This insight might be profound, but sounds to me like L. Ron Hubbard meets ISKCON at Burning Man.

And yet these works represent some of the “trustworthy scholarship” that will uncover what the biblical texts mean? And, sure enough, what the texts mean allows for billions of years of death, suffering, and predation.

Inspiration on Death

In contrast, Paul (Romans 5:12—19) makes it clear that Adam brought death, and that Jesus came to undo the death which Adam brought, a crucial theme that Paul reiterated in Corinthians: “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 5:21, 22, NKJV).      

Now, if I were a first century AD Jew, instead of a twenty-first century AD one, would I not be much closer to “the original audience’s conceptual ‘universe’”? Of course. Regardless of whatever I might miss being separated so far in time and culture from Paul’s world, can I still not get his point: Adam brought death, Jesus brought life? I think so.

Because the author brought up the question of biblical inspiration, might he not also logically ask, How well did Paul himself, when he wrote Romans and Corinthians, understand the worldview at the time that Genesis was written? As Hannon emphasized, anything human, like Paul, is fallible. And so, given his questions about inspiration, perhaps not only I but even Paul would need Messrs. Walton, Guy, and Bull, et. al. to better understand the Genesis creation account?

Let’s cut to the chase. We all face the physical death that Paul was talking about in Romans and Corinthians, the death that Jesus overcame for us by His resurrection. (“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”) The only official account that we have about the origins of this death appears in Genesis 1—3. However, what the account depicts—a sinless Adam and a sinless Eve who, as the first humans, brought death into the world—cannot possibly be what Genesis really means.

Why? Because “science” says so.

The Science Thing

Numerous times Hannon pointed out that my article didn’t address the science. It didn’t, and that’s because the science, macroevolution, I believe, is wrong. Though evolution isn’t in the same category as the flat-earth (but close), it is in the same as the “ether,” which—though a century or two ago was deemed as certain as a scientific theory could be—today sounds as if lifted from astrology. 

“But if we need,” he claims, “to look at both sources of knowledge, we can no longer consider it acceptable—as this essay does—to interpret revelation alone in trying to reach a justifiable conclusion. Further, in investigating the scientific story, if it produces very persuasive (i.e., well-grounded) conclusions, then that ought to force us back to consider, more strongly, whether we have inadvertently misunderstood revelation.”

He writes that “both sources of knowledge” are needed to understand creation. That may sound fine, but in every attempt that I’ve read to use both sources, evolutionary science always rules. If science teaches x, and revelation y, then x wins. When Paul (revelation) wrote about Adam bringing death, but evolutionary science says that billions of years of death predated humanity, what wins out every time? In this case, the most that theistic evolutionist Christians will concede to revelation is that, at some point through the long eons, two early humanoids might be deemed “Adam and Eve.”

He also talked about when science produces “very persuasive (i.e., well-grounded) conclusions.” Like evolution? Of course. When that model is the only model allowed; when everything is interpreted only through it; and when to even hint at design is to face calumny and (among practicing scientists) professional suicide—yes, it’s easy to be convinced that evolution is true. 

Yet it’s a fairy tale—a very bad one at that—but made to sound convincing because it comes decorated with all the epistemological gravitas of “science.” And though I could easily be dismissed as an ignoramus, what about those scientists and theologians more in line with my thinking than with his? Such as the authors of Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Critique, edited by, among others, Wayne Grudem and J.P. Moreland.The work is more than a thousand pages by PhDs from Caltech, Tübingen, Chicago, Baylor, Cambridge, Uppsala, Yale, University of California, and so forth. Even if Hannon didn’t agree with their anti-evolutionism, given their expertise, perhaps he shouldn’t be so dogmatic about “the very persuasive (i.e., well-grounded) conclusions” of his science and the decisive role he believes that they must play in interpreting revelation.

Taking Words out of God’s Mouth

Finally, he took umbrage with what he claimed was, based on his title, my putting words in God’s mouth. “The apologetics in this commentary is not positioned as being human-derived but rather as if God stated it. The ‘lies’ of the title refer to supposed statements made by God himself.”

It’s true. I took texts from the Word of God—such as “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7, NKJV), or “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21)—as if they were from God Himself. 

We don’t believe in verbal inspiration, of course, and so he could argue, as he does, that God Himself did not say them. Fair enough. But if God is not speaking to us, even through human emissaries, in the Word of God—then who is? Just humans? (Hence his “messy” question of inspiration again.)

When the Word of God says “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 5:21, 22), am I wrong to believe that God has said, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive?” Even if they are not God’s verbatim words, they are His thoughts—and so what’s the practical difference? Yet Hannon was implying that by quoting the Word of God, and by accepting the Word of God at face value—which is all that I was doing—I was putting these words in God’s mouth?

On the other hand, if the Word of God, based on Genesis 1—3, says that “in Adam all die,” but Hannon, based on his science, cannot accept what the Word of God says here, might he be taking words out of God’s mouth?

Logic, not Honesty

As my writings reveal, I’m passionate about this topic. Because I cannot see how evolution can be harmonized with Scripture, I have questioned the “honesty” and “moral integrity” of those who think they can. For that I apologize.

Instead, I will question their logic. Wouldn’t it be logical to say something like, Though we greatly respect the Bible, given what modern evolutionary science has taught us, the first twelve chapters of the Genesis not only don’t teach the truth about our origins, but they actually stymie the search for that truth. Therefore, those chapters should be ignored in any serious attempt to understand human origins.

And because the New Testament, Paul in particular, inextricably ties the theology of Christ’s death to the Genesis creation account, wouldn’t it be logical to say something like, Given what science teaches about origins, shouldn’t we radically reinterpret, if not discard, New Testament theology about Christ’s death and what it means for humanity, replacing it with something that fits with modern evolutionary science?

Some have already gone that far. Rich Hannon, I hope, won’t, unless he’s logical.

1 Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: 2 (The Lost World Series) (p. 92). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

2 Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical,  and Theological Critique. (Crossway, Wheaton, Ill). 2017.