This is a continuation of my previous post. I evaluate common scriptural arguments about how to interpret the Genesis creation account, and relate them to my espoused interpretation. Each of these arguments deserves a full post at the very least, but I have condensed my reply to a few short paragraphs as to not repeat what has been written elsewhere, and to demonstrate that my interpretation does in fact take these arguments into consideration.
"Biological evolution and an old earth implies that there was death before Adam, but Romans 5:12 clearly indicates that death entered the world through Adam's fall. Otherwise, how could God have created the world and called it 'very good' if it involved the many deaths and extinctions that evolution requires?"
Romans 5:12 is focusing on spiritual death. In Romans 5, the death that came to all men through Adam is contrasted with the life we all receive in Jesus Christ. Actually, the passage makes a point of saying that the gift is not like the trespass, that the effect of Christ's actions are far greater than Adam's sin. Now we Christians, living after Christ and his cross, still must all physically die one day. So, if the greater effect - caused by Christ - still does not prevent us from dying physical deaths, why would the lesser effect - caused by Adam - include both physical and spiritual death? Was Adam's sin greater than Christ's sacrifice?
But what if Romans 5 is talking about both physical and spiritual death together? Is that not the most natural reading? Just as Adam's sin caused spiritual death, and therefore physical death as an eventual consequence, Christ's sacrifice gives spiritual life, and therefore our physical resurrection as an eventual consequence. This is a solid interpretation; in fact 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 strongly supports it. But this still doesn't change the fact that spiritual death is the chief concern, that even after Christ's work on the cross, we must physically die before our resurrection. It therefore seems reasonable that even before Adam's fall, people and animals had to physically die.
All this means that physical death is not the great evil that we must guard against at all costs. That's spiritual death, the second death, the permanent separation from God. In the grand scheme of things, physical death matters less than the smallest bit of our sins. For in Christ even that smallest bit of sin is removed, whereas we must still undergo our physical death.
So, according to evolution, some part of creation that did not yet have contact with Adam - the bearer of the image of God - died merely physical deaths. This is not some great evil. It is no more evil than water flowing down a slope or the second law of thermodynamics. Evolution and its associated physical death can take place without impinging upon the goodness of God, because there was no ensouled creatures before Adam to experience it. Verses like Romans 5:12 rightly focus on the death brought on by Adam, but this only began to matter because Adam was the first creature to have a God-breathed spirit. These verses are mostly about spiritual death, with the attendant physical death only starting to matter because it was now starting to happen to spiritual beings.
But could it not be argued that any death would be a flaw, that all of creation should have lived forever in perfection before the fall? No: Eden is not the New Jerusalem. It is only 'very good', not perfect. Our pre-fall state will pale in comparison to our post-resurrection state. This is made most obvious by the fact that Adam fell, whereas in Christ we are secure forever. Therefore there is no reason to postulate the lack of physical death before Adam, when it remained even after Christ. It will only disappear in a new heaven and a new earth, where the old order of things will have passed away.
"How could the human race have propagated itself from just Adam and Eve? Who was Cain's wife, or Seth's wife? A literal interpretation would involve lots of incest, which is contrary to God's commandments."
Many who hold to a literal, 7-day creation will say "Cain and Seth married their sisters" without batting an eye. I personally find this to be far more problematic than "death before Adam". I mean, God explicitly commands us not commit incest. It seems unlikely that his "very good" design for humanity involved reproduction by incest from the very beginning.
I've heard it said that because Adam and Eve had perfect, universally representative genes, there was none of the usual deleterious effects of incest in the next few generations, and this was why incest was allowed. But this strikes me as a dangerous way of thinking. So, if we could mitigate the negative genetic effects of incest, God would approve of it? Then would modern-day incestuous relations be okay with the use of birth control, or with genetic screening? Would it in fact be desirable, since it's going back to the pre-fall, original intent that God had for humanity? This gets even more muddled if we expand this way of thinking into other sexual mores. When would adultery be allowed, for instance?
Such shallow thinking about sexuality is the way of the world - not fitting for the body of Christ. Ironically, evolution is one of the best tools we have against the "anything goes" ideas of human mating that are prevalent in the world. While evolution becomes monstrous when it's taken as an idol and the ultimate arbiter of morality, when it is properly understood as the tool that God used to create us humans, it expresses a great deal of power and truth that's very relevant to our understanding of morality - sexual morality in particular. But the Christian Church, as a whole, is missing a great opportunity to explore and declare the truth in this area due to our collective waffling on evolution.
Accepting evolution allows us to believe that God was consistent in forbidding incest. It also allows us to discover greater truths about human reproduction and sexuality hidden within the scriptures. With this proper understanding we can take a firm stances against the errors of the world.
"We're the children of God, not the descendants of monkeys!"
If God could make children of Abraham from stones, he can also make sons and daughters of God from monkeys. It is, in fact, good to be reminded of our animal nature, so that we can better trust and glorify God as he makes us into his full-grown children.
Remember that God did not choose Israel because they were a numerous people, or because their ancestors had always served God. He chose them because he loved them. Likewise, he probably did not choose the monkeys that were our ancestors because they were so very smart, or good looking, or well behaved. But just as God did his amazing works through Israel despite their lowly origin, he's accomplishing great things with humanity, despite the fact that we're just a species of great apes. This should make us better appreciate that we're the children of God, rather than dismissing what God can accomplish even through beings like us.
"2 Peter 3:8 says that for God, a thousand years is like a day. The days in the Genesis creation accounts could easily be long periods of time."
While this is certainly true, and a good reminder that God is not bound by time as we are, I find this line of thinking too literal, trying too hard to "proof-text" using a passage that's not directly related to the Genesis creation account. It's a decent verse for a day-age theorist, and while that's not a view I currently hold, it's one that I'm somewhat sympathetic to (Hugh Ross was influential in some of my early thoughts).
"The Bible means what it says. As a general rule, a literal interpretation is to be preferred over a figurative one. A figurative interpretation should only be adapted if a literal interpretation fails. Allowing an allegorical interpretation for the Genesis creation account would lead to allegorizing away the meaning in all the other key passages of the Bible."
Once again, I'll say that this is a view I can respect. It's born out of a desire to take the Bible seriously and a zeal to be faithful to God's word, and it would certainly be nice if Bible interpretation was always as easy as taking a passage literally. However, as I mentioned before, I disagree with nearly all of the claims made about Bible interpretation in this view: no, a literal interpretation should NOT automatically be the default. An allegorical interpretation, while it may be more difficult than a literal one, can NOT be made to say absolutely anything, and does NOT lead to losing all meaning in the Bible. In fact we rely on a figurative interpretation in some very important passages to say very firm things, such as in John 1.
In my next post, I will discuss Adam and Eve - key figures in the creation story, and also in my interpretation of that story.
You may next want to read:
Adam and Eve were historical persons. Who were they? (Part 1) (Next post of this series)
Orthodoxy vs. living out the Gospel: which is more important?
Common arguments about the creation account (Part 1) (Previous post of this series)
Another post, from the table of contents