Does the Bible Need Updating?
The Greek philosopher Parmenides argued that the universe or creation, including humankind, is unchanging or constant, and change is an illusion. Another Greek philosopher Heraclitus argued that the opposite is true. Creation is in a perpetual state of flux or change, and constancy is the illusion. Centuries later, the argument between the two philosophers continues to be at the heart of the conflict between people who espouse the Intelligent Design explanation of creation and those who espouse the explanation put forth by evolutionists.
Consistent with the claim of Parmenides, the Intelligent Design explanation is a static account of creation. The people who espouse it argue that creation was a top-down event by God as the intelligent designer and creator, and because He created what He intended to create, including humankind in His image, there was no need for change in an evolutionary sense.
Consistent with the claim of Heraclitus, the evolutionists' explanation is a dynamic account of creation. Closely associated with the writings of Charles Darwin, evolutionists argue that creation is a bottom-up process of natural selection that took place over billions of years without a necessity of God as intelligent designer and creator. Moreover, they argue that the process of creation is ongoing.
The Intelligent Design explanation adheres to the static accounts of creation in Genesis, the first Book of the Bible. The account was appropriate, given the stock of knowledge humankind had about creation at the time the Bible was compiled and proclaimed the Word of God by the early Roman Catholic Church. It was also appropriate for centuries after that, if for no other reason than as a means of consolidating the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and later, a variety of Protestant churches.
Today, however, reason and scientific evidence support the evolutionists’ explanation, and it is a theory by definition because it is capable of falsification or disproof. Reason and scientific evidence do not support the Intelligent Design explanation, and it is not a competing theory by definition because it is not capable of falsification or disproof. In short, Intelligent Design is faith-based knowledge, that is, knowledge revealed in Genesis and accepted as truth on the basis of faith, whereas the evolutionists’ explanation of creation is evidence-based knowledge, that is, knowledge acquired by way of scientific investigation.
It is worth noting that the static account of creation in Genesis can be rejected without reference to natural selection. Artificial selection has been used for thousands of years—breeding hybrid crops and animals. It was Darwin's study of this that opened the door for natural selection. The fact of artificial selection means species could not have been created once and forever in their original forms.
Nevertheless, the case made by evolutionists is often overstated. Although reason and scientific evidence are on their side, the claim that God did not initiate or set the evolutionary process in motion is as faith-based as the Intelligent Design explanation of creation as stated in Genesis. Moreover, scientific evidence to the contrary of the Genesis account of creation is not evidence that God did not set the evolutionary process in motion. In fact, because God's direct or indirect involvement in the creation process is a matter of faith, neither its denial nor its affirmation has a legitimate place in scientific investigation. Science only considers that which is capable of disproof.
That said, however, static accounts of any phenomena suffer the same fate over time. Whether in the studies of economics, physics, political science, or religion, they are eventually relegated to the dustbin of history—noteworthy first approximations of reality that cannot compete once dynamic or evolutionary explanations are acquired.
Note that rejection of the Genesis account is not a rejection of God’s role as designer, creator, or initiator of the process of creation, only a rejection of humankind's understanding of it. And if the belief in God's role is to be preserved, a serious updating of the Genesis account may be required. Quite frankly, the Genesis account is sophomoric and insulting to the God of Christianity and other religions in light of the knowledge humankind has acquired since it was written.
In fact, the whole Bible may well be long overdue for a comprehensive updating in the light of the current stock of knowledge. And although an updating is unlikely to be undertaken soon because of Christian stubbiness and ignorance, it is challenging to think about what it would have to include in order to keep the basic tenets of Christianity afloat in the Twenty-first Century and beyond. Consider the following:
The writing of an updated Bible—under God's guidance, of course—could be undertaken by a bright and imaginative person who could preserve the current belief in God as the Word or Truth that existed before time began. In addition, the writer could preserve the belief that God became flesh in the form of Jesus so that humankind could know the Word or Truth.
God could be revealed in the account of creation as the intelligence that created the initial conditions of the evolutionary process and set it in motion. Later, as humankind evolved, God could be revealed as having endowed it with collective as well as personal free will so that it could determine its direction of evolutionary change within the confines of the overall evolutionary process. Of course, free will would mean that humankind's collective as well as personal fate is not predetermined.
In addition, it could be revealed in the updated Bible that God reserves the right to intervene and reset the process when it runs amuck. In so doing, the Christian belief in a personal God could be preserved in contrast to a belief in an indifferent God that simply initiated the evolutionary process and let it run its course.
The details of the forgoing preservations of the essential tenets of Christianity could be worked out between the writer of the updated Bible and God. Supporting elements, including the commandments, illustrative examples, and parables, would probably have to be revised not only for consistency but also as a means of heightening the dramatic tension and thereby the marketability of the updated Bible. But when finished, it could be a much more credible book, one reflective of both the wisdom of the current Bible and the current stock of scientific knowledge, both of which are God-given. Moreover, if done as suggested, it could be much more revering of God's creative skills than depicted in the current Bible.
That said, however, a nagging question is left unanswered: Where is that bright and imaginative person who is inspired by God to undertake the task? The answer may well be that God in his infinite wisdom is already planning to supply that much needed person as part of another major intervention—perhaps a second begotten son or an only begotten daughter who can not only talk the talk but write. But regardless, if that person is not forthcoming, it is not God that is in jeopardy. Rather, it is the Christian understanding of God as reflected in its outdated Bible that is destined for the dustbin of history, including the Genesis account of creation. The baby may well be tossed out with the bath water.
Copyright © March 2011 Frank Zahn. Published in ViewsHound June 27, 2011; The Writings of a Curious Mind: A Collection of Essays, Memoirs, and Short Stories, Vancouver Books (Kindle Edition) 2017.