Today’s guest post comes to us from one of my favorite bloggers. Mason Slater is an MA student at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, a freelance writer, and a publishing consultant. I had the pleasure of meeting Mason and his lovely wife Melinda when I was in Grand Rapids for the Festival of Faith and Writing. I love how this guy thinks! He’s smart, thoughtful, humble, and wise.
Mason blogs at MasonSlater.com, where he writes about the latest news in theology, Christian living, and publishing. I’ve been following for several years now, and am always interested in the conversation there. Mason recently moved his blog, so be sure to re-subscribe!
The Bible and Books About Dinosaurs
by Mason Slater
After years of research, and quite a bit of agonizing, I’m finally able to offer this small pronouncement.
I no longer believe that there is any inherent conflict between the Scriptures and the scientific account of human origins, by which of course I mean evolution.
Admittedly, that someone you’ve probably never met is able to affirm a scientific theory which most of the Western world takes for granted may not seem like that big of a deal.
But it is for me, and I imagine my story is not all that unlike many of yours.
I grew up in a conservative evangelical home. As best I can remember my parents never made a point to bring up Creationism or Evolution, but they didn’t have to – the subculture did it for them.
Over time a young boy who loved dinosaurs and fossils began to sense those things were dirty, that the books he was reading were looked on with suspicion. At first I wasn’t sure why, but soon I learned that these books taught things about the world that disagreed with the Bible.
Because I loved the Bible more than my books about dinosaurs, it wasn’t long before those books found themselves gathering dust on my bookshelf.
That evolutionary science and Christian faith were incompatible seemed as apparent as that every autumn would lead to another cold Michigan winter. With that assumption firmly implanted, my young self was one day faced with a crisis. While talking with my mom she made some passing mention that my father believed in evolution.
I was shocked, terrified even.
Terrified because I thought this meant dad might not be saved. So, after arriving home from a long day at work, my father was confronted by his twelve-year-old son who proceeded to try and convince him how important it was that he believed what the Bible said about God making the world.
I’m sure I was not a terribly convincing young theologian at that point, but I’m also sure dad could see what it meant to me, so he agreed with me and the issue was never raised again.
Though it wasn’t long before I made my peace with Evolution not being an issue of salvation, these crisis moments ensured that I would wrestle for many years with the ways my faith seemed to clash with science.
By the time I graduated from high school I had read many Creationist books and had the debates time after time, and was no doubt obnoxiously sure of myself.
Then college hit, and the more widely I read the less sure I became of my easy answers.
A Biblical Studies major as an undergrad, I expected to find theologians offering a thorough repudiation of godless Darwinism, what I found was quite the opposite. There were of course theologians who were outspoken Creationists, but plenty of theologians who I had come to deeply respect saw absolutely no contradiction between biblical faithfulness and the science of evolution.
This was exciting, freeing even, but also deeply frustrating.
See, I still cared more for the Bible than my books about dinosaurs. And, try as I might, I just couldn’t see how to make the two compatible without doing violence to the Scriptures I valued so highly.
As I continued to research I could see more and more massive holes in the Young Earth Creationism I had grown up on, but with no better option I became essentially agnostic. I knew I was no long a traditional Creationist, but I couldn’t really bring myself to throw in with any other position either.
Enter John Walton.
Last winter I read Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One and it changed everything. Or, rather, I knew that it could. I also knew I wanted to believe what he was saying, so I was a bit suspicious of my motives for embracing his argument. It made perfect sense, but did I just think that because of all sorts of subconscious motivations?
So I took some time to ponder it, and this summer I re-read The Lost World of Genesis One and had the chance to hear Walton speak about his argument in the book. This led to this post, and a follow up.
Walton’s suggestion? In the ancient world the idea of creation was not about material but function. So that, in all the ancient creation myths, the thing that is created is order, things are named and given roles and a place in the world. How the “stuff” that things are made of came into existence was simply not a concern to the ancients.
If that’s true, and Walton makes a very good case for it, here is the way it cashes out: Genesis 1 is about functional origins not material, the original audience would have understood it as being about how order was created out of chaos, not how matter came from non-matter.
So the Bible takes no particular side in the debates we have about Evolution or the age of the earth, that Story is about something else entirely.
And suddenly I don’t have to choose between the Bible and those books about dinosaurs.