Kangaroo Court

Creation Icon

Creation Icon

When I was younger I was indoctrinated into the Creationist myth. We had an answer for everything. We were thoroughly convinced, although not convincing to others. I now know the arguments once so convincing were (and still are) based upon old data, bad science, and faulty theology. Yet I still hear the same old nonsense over and over again. The echo chamber never learns.

We had our own definition of terms which we applied to everything. Our understanding of a scientific theory was akin to the scientist’s definition of a hypothesis. “It’s just a theory,” we would say, ignoring the scientific definition of theory — which has its basis in evidence. This is similar to the atheist’s definition of faith. To the atheist, faith is always blind, devoid of any evidentiary basis; yet for Christians, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. Faith is both substantial and based on evidence, much like a scientific theory.

The creationist runs a Kangaroo Court. The decision has already been rendered before the evidence has been heard; the quality of the argument is of no consequence. The creationist has run afoul of the existential fallacy, in that the argument begins with a universal premise and affirms a particular conclusion. In the beginning, God created; therefore, evolution is false. But the universal premise does not preclude the particular conclusion. Moreover, the creationist fails to deal with scripture as the author intended, and as the audience would have understood it. The Genesis accounts are an exercise in demythologizing. No matter what the pagans affirmed, the Genesis accounts contradicted them. No matter which God they worshipped, the God of Genesis was greater still.

The apostles warned us to be on guard against the Judaizers. The early church fathers warned us against the literalistic interpretation of scripture as used by the Jews. It should be obvious that the bible is written in poetry, not prose; yet the evangelical Christian has an entirely prosaic view of the bible.

So go ahead and bang that gong. Clang that symbol. Just be aware that intransigence is contrary to the Gospel.

Justifying God

Theodicy is commonly thought to concern itself with the problem of evil. The most banal expression of this is the phrase: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But it is more than that. So much more. In fact, theodicy has to do with the justification of God. It is a defense of God’s goodness and greatness in the face of evil, of suffering, and of death.

One of the best descriptions of the problem was recently expressed by Stephen Fry, who when asked what he would say to God:

I’d say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I would say.

There are creatures who use humans as hosts for part of their life cycle, creatures responsible for a great deal of pain, suffering, and death. Take for example, the protozoan known as Plasmodium, which is responsible for Malaria. The five species of Plasmodium are all spread from human to human using mosquitoes, and all five species mature and reproduce in the human liver. The World Health Organization says that in 2013, around 584,000 people died of malaria, most of them children under the age of five. You could say that the existence of Malaria has as its primary purpose the killing of children.

Dracunculiasis is the formal name for the infection by the Guinea worm. The Guinea worm primarily infects humans (and possibly dogs) by drinking water containing guinea worm larvae. Once a human is infected, the worm matures, mates, and slowly travels through the body to the lower leg, often causing intense pain. Eventually the worm causes an allergic reaction. Blisters form, eventually burst, and the worm begins to protrude from the body. Slowly, over a period of weeks, the guinea worm exits the body. As it slowly makes its way out of the, the burning sensation causes people to seek relief by soaking their leg in water, allowing the worm to release larvae which are eaten by water fleas, continuing the life cycle. The sole purpose of the Guinea worm’s existence seems to be to cause great pain and suffering; it does this indiscriminately, and for the sole purpose of furthering its own reproduction.

If you are a creationist, you have to believe that God created these (and other) creatures whose sole purpose is to cause pain and suffering. Thus we must assume that God desires to see his creation suffer. It is not enough that some humans will suffer in the afterlife, but quite a number of the sufferings of this life are caused by creatures God created for this express purpose. We humans have a name for this type of personality disorder; if we are indeed created in the image of God, than this name would necessarily apply to a God who seems to enjoy the sufferings of his creation.

If you are an evolutionist who believes in God, you have other difficulties. The evolutionary process which led to the existence of humans has been the result of a great deal of suffering and death. There have been five great extinction events, known colloquially as the “Big Five.”

  • Ordovician-Silurian mass extinction: 443 million years ago; 85% of sea life went extinct
  • Late Devonian mass extinction: 359 million years ago; 75% of all life went extinct
  • Permian mass extinction: 248 million years ago; 96% of all life went extinct
  • Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction: 200 million years ago: 50% of all animals went extinct
  • Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction: 65 million years ago; extinction of the dinosaurs, allowing for the rise of mammalian life

So much death and destruction, leading the way to the development of human beings. How do we account for this? What was the purpose of death on such a large scale, occurring multiple times? If we accept the biblical creation accounts, death is the result of sin. Yet how could there have been sin before humanity existed? And if suffering and death existed prior to the fall, how then is God a good God? How can we love a God who seems to enjoy the suffering of His creation?

I have no answers, only questions. One day, I hope to ask God what was the point of it all. As Stephen Fry recently noted when asked if after death he found himself in front of the pearly gates: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

Seriously, what’s the point of it? In the book of Job, the answer given seems to have been: “Who do you think you are to be asking me that question?” But, if the Bible is true, humans were created in the image and likeness of God; I therefore presume upon that likeness to ask the impertinent, impolitic, and possibly blasphemous question: “Why?”

And yet, I know that God exists. I have experienced his providential care. Yes, what I call providence could be chalked up to chance, but I’ve also experienced miracles in my life — at least one of which was witnessed by others. My life (and those with me) has been saved twice in miraculous ways, at least one of which has no rational explanation. I have therefore personally experienced the hand of God working in my life.

When I begin to doubt the goodness of God, I am also forced to remember the goodness of God towards me. The God who seems to delight in suffering, also seems to delight in being good towards his creation. I cannot reconcile the two. One day, I hope to ask God the same question Stephen Fry asks: “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

Creation, Sola Scriptura, and the Church

Ex Nihilo by Frederick Hart

Ex Nihilo by Frederick Hart

Creatio ex Nihilo

The doctrine that everything that exists was created out of nothing cannot be proven from Scripture alone. It is a product of over 500 years of theological development beginning around 200 BCE, and prior to that time was of little to no concern to the Jewish people.

This might be hard for biblical literalists to take, but nothing in the Genesis creation accounts support the idea of creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. This is an interpretation passed on by tradition rather than a position derived from exegesis — the critical explanation of the text.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) This is a summary statement, one that sets the stage for everything that is to follow. And what follows does not support creation out of nothing. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) This verse is a description of the typical near-eastern concept of the primordial state which existed before creation. The Greeks called this chaos (χάος), a word that means formless, void, darkness. The Greek philosopher Pherecydes of Syros describes chaos as being like water — formless, yet capable of differentiation. John H. Walton says this was a feature of near-eastern cosmology, that the act of creation involved not the creation of matter, but the differentiation and ordering of matter. In this view, creation is functional rather than ontological; creation is an act of separation, of differentiation, of the initiation of an “operational system”.[1]

Jewish Development

Justin Taylor says Genesis 1:1 is not a summary statement, but rather a background statement describing the initial act of creation of matter out of nothing.[2] There are multiple problems with this interpretation. First, this interpretation is foreign to the ancient cosmologies. Paul Copan notes that “Jewish thought was preoccupied with the God of the cosmos rather than with the cosmos itself.”[3] Second, the creation accounts are about God and God’s relationship with the created order; and about humanity, about God’s relationship with humanity, and about humanity’s relationship with the created order. In other words, the creation accounts are theological and anthropological first, and only distantly related to the question of “how” God created. Third, Philip Jenkins notes that for early Jewish thought, “Adam’s story made little impact.”[4] It wasn’t until around the 2nd century B.C. that the creation accounts became an issue in theology. Prior to that time, the focus was Torah and Temple, on what Jacob Neusner refers to as “eternal Israel.”[5]

Beginning in the 2nd century BCE, there was a difference of opinion on the matter. Philo of Alexandria, the great Jewish theologian (c. 20 BCE – 40CE), appears to be of two minds on this issue. In his work On the Eternity of the World, he writes: “For it is impossible that anything should be generated of that which has no existence anywhere.”[6] Yet in his work On Dreams he writes: “And besides all this, as the sun, when he arises, discovers hidden things, so also does God, who created all things, not only bring them all to light, but he has even created what before had no existence, not being their only maker, but also their founder.”[7]

There are differences of opinion on this issue presented in the Apocrypha (a.k.a. the Deuterocanonical books), most of which were written in the 200 years before Christ. In 2 Maccabees we have the story of a woman encouraging her son to accept martyrdom rather than recant. She says: “I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind made likewise.” (2 Macc 7:28) Contrast this with the Wisdom of Solomon, which states: “For Your all-powerful hand, Which created the world out of unformed matter…” (Wis 11:17a, OSB)[8]

New Testamental Support

Unlike what many people think, the New Testament does nothing to resolve this issue, as the passages used to support creation out of nothing do not say this explicitly. In many cases they could be interpreted as supporting either position; in other cases, their support for creation out of nothing is tenuous at best. Let us examine first the passage from the book of Romans.

(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Rom 4:17)

If we examine this passage out of context, the phrase “calleth those things which be not as though they were” seems to support creation out of nothing. But the context suggest otherwise. First, this refers to Abraham’s being the father of nations when as yet he not only had no children, but that his body and that of his wife were as good as dead (Rom 4:19; Heb 11:12). It is their bodies, which were as good as dead (incapable of childbearing) which were touched by God, “who quickeneth the dead.” The passage is not speaking of the creation accounts, but of God’s granting a child to Abraham and Sarah by quickening their dead bodies, by calling those things which be not (fertility) as though they were.

Another passage often used to support creation out of nothing is found in the book of Colossians.

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Col 1: 16-17)

The primary context of this passage is Christological. The Son of God is “the firstborn of every creature” (Col 1:15), just as He is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18) The creation of all things “visible and invisible” is a reference to the entirety of the created order, both spiritual and material. This creation is then recapitulated in the reconciliation of all things (Col 1:20). While creation out of nothing can be supported by this passage, it is an improper hermeneutic to derive a normative theology from a passage that is not explicitly addressing that subject.

The book of Hebrews is often used to support creation out of nothing, and at first glance this seems to be the case.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb 11:3)

The verb “were framed” (καταρτιζω, katartizo, kat-ar-tid’-zo) has to do with an object’s function rather than its ontology. The idea is to mend, to complete, to arrange, to prepare. This is in line with the ancient cosmological ideas that the primordial stage was formless, void, and undifferentiated, and that the “things which are seen” were made of this primordial chaos, which we do not see. One can certainly read into this passage the idea of creation out of nothing, but the passage can readily be interpreted otherwise.

Ante-Nicene Development

The issue of whether the world was created out of nothing remained unsettled in the ante-Nicene era. Some early church fathers such as Justin Martyr held that creation has to do with God’s ordering or fashioning the world out of the preexisting chaos (Origen also supported this position.)

We have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter. (Justin Martyr, First Apology, X)[9]

Other church fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130 –c.  202 AD), Tatian the Assyrian (c. 120 – c. 180 AD), and Theophilus of Antioch (c. 181) argued against the both Greek philosophy and the Gnostics using the concept of creation out of nothing. Irenaeus of Lyon is quite explicit when he writes:

While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book II, X)[10]

In describing the content of the Christian faith, Irenaeus used some language from the Psalms, which itself is derived from Genesis:

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever. (Ps 146:5-6)

The idea that God “made heaven and earth” was used in the proto-creedal formulations of Irenaeus, which inaugurated the language which was later folded into the Nicene Creed. In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote:

The Church, though dispersed through out the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book I, X)[11]

These have all declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book III, I)[12]

Tatian the Assyrian makes the argument that even if the world was formed out of unformed, undifferentiated chaos, it was God that brought that chaos into existence.

The case stands thus: we can see that the whole structure of the world, and the whole creation, has been produced from matter, and the matter itself brought into existence by God; so that on the one hand it may be regarded as rude and unformed before it was separated into parts, and on the other as arranged in beauty and order after the separation was made. (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, XII)[13]

Theophilus  of Antioch ridicules the Greek philosophers and their concept of the eternity of matter. He writes:

God, because He is uncreated, is also unalterable; so if matter, too, were uncreated, it also would be unalterable, and equal to God; for that which is created is mutable and alterable, but that which is uncreated is immutable and unalterable. And what great thing is it if God made the world out of existent materials? For even a human artist, when he gets material from some one, makes of it what he pleases. But the power of God is manifested in this, that out of things that are not He makes whatever He pleases. (Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II, IV)[14]

The Nicene Creed

This issue was not settled until the First Ecumenical Council, which laid forth the idea of creation out of nothing as follows:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten (γεννηθέντα), not made, being of one substance (ὁμοούσιον, consubstantialem) with the Father.  By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. (The First Ecumenical Council, The Creed)[15]

By claiming God to be the maker of all things visible and invisible, both in heaven and in earth, the council settled the issue, using the terminology found in Scripture as filtered through Irenaeus. By using the language of Irenaeus, they were implicitly endorsing the theology of Irenaeus over against those who believed that creation was a mere ordering of unformed, undifferentiated chaos.


The theological dogma of creation ex nihilo, of creation out of nothing, developed over time, in opposition to near-eastern cosmologies, to Greek philosophy, and to the Gnostics. The argument predates Christianity, and was not settled until the First Council of Nice in 325 A.D. The doctrine is nowhere explicit the Scriptures, and can barely be said to be implicit. It can be read into the Sacred Scriptures only insofar as one has this thought already in mind.

The fact that Christianity accepts the idea of creation out of nothing cannot be attributed to Scripture Alone, for those who through otherwise could also support their position from scripture. This position developed in opposition to heresy — specifically, the Gnostic heresy, which derived its cosmology from Greek philosophy and various near-eastern cosmologies. The idea of creation ex nihilo, of creation out of nothing, is therefore a product of the Church, and is part of Holy Tradition.



Copan, Paul. 1996. “Is Creatio Ex Nihilo A Post-Biblical Invention? An Examination Of Gerhard May’s Proposal.” EarlyChurch.org.uk. Accessed January 29, 2015. www.earlychurch.org.uk/article_exnihilo_copan.html.

Jenkins, Philip. 2015. “Enter Adam.” Patheos.com. January 23. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/01/enter-adam/.

Neusner, Jacob. 1993. A Rabbi talks with Jesus: an intermillennial, interfaith exchange. New York: Doubleday.

Philo of Alexandria. n.d. “On Dreams.” Early Jewish Writings. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book21.html.

—. n.d. “On the Eternity of the World.” Early Jewish Writings. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book35.html.

Schaff, Philip. 1884. ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Vol. 1. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

—. 2004. ANF02 Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). Edited by Phillip Schaff. Vol. 2. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

—. 2005. NPNF2-14 The Seven Ecumenical Councils. Vol. 14. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Taylor, Justin. 2015. “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.” The Gospel Coalition. January 28. Accessed January 29, 2015. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/01/28/biblical-reasons-to-doubt-the-creation-days-were-24-hour-periods/.

Walton, John H. 2009. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.




[1] (Walton 2009, 29)

[2] (Taylor 2015)

[3] (Copan 1996)

[4] (Jenkins 2015)

[5] (Neusner 1993, passim)

[6] (Philo of Alexandria n.d., II.5)

[7] (Philo of Alexandria n.d., I.76)

[8] The King James Version translation of this verse is less clear, translating the phrase “out of formless matter” as “of matter without form”. “For thy Almighty hand, that made the world of matter without form …” (Wis 11:17)

[9] (Schaff 1884, 252)

[10] (Schaff 1884, 609)

[11] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 541)

[12] (Schaff, ANF01 1884, 684)

[13] (Schaff, ANF02 2004, 108)

[14] (Schaff, ANF02 2004, 146)

[15] (Schaff, NPNF2-14 2005, 39)

Creation as a Trinitarian Act

From “Creation and the Heart of Man” by Fr. Michael Butler and Andrew Morriss


The Orthodox Church affirms that creation was a free act of God. However, the Orthodox go a step further and say that creation is not simply an act of God but a cooperative act of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For ‘in the beginning,’ when ‘God created the heavens and the earth,’ ‘the Spirit [pneuma] of God was moving over the face of the waters’ 4 and God the Father spoke through his Word, and the creation came to be. 5 Indeed, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. ca. 202) calls the Son and the Spirit the ‘two hands’ of God with which he formed the world, 6 and St. John of Damascus (d. 749) says,

Since, then, God, who is good and more than good, did not find satisfaction in self-contemplation, but in His exceeding goodness wished certain things to come into existence which would enjoy His benefits and share in His goodness, He brought all things out of nothing into being and created them, both what is invisible and what is visible. Yea, even man, who is a compound of the visible and the invisible. And it is by thought that He creates, and thought is the basis of the work, the Word filling it and the Spirit perfecting it.[1]

Or, as St. Basil the Great puts it,

When you consider creation I advise you to think first of Him who is the first cause of everything that exists: namely, the Father, and then of the Son, who is the creator, and then the Holy Spirit, the perfector.… The Originator of all things is One: He creates through the Son and perfects through the Holy Spirit.… Perceive these three: the Lord who commands, the Word who creates, and the Spirit who strengthens.[2]

These statements of the Fathers are perhaps most simply put in the Symbol of Faith (the Nicene Creed), which acknowledges that the Father is the ‘maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible,’ the Son is he ‘through whom all things were made,’ and the Holy Spirit is ‘the giver of life.’


Butler, Michael, and Andrew Morriss. Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism. Kindle Edition. Edited by Dylan Pahman. Acton Institute, 2013.


[1] St. John of Damascus , On the Orthodox Faith, 2.2 (PG 94.864C10-65A5), cited in Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 43– 44.

[2] St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 16.38 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980), 62– 63 (PG 32.136A15-B3, B9-10, C11-13).


Creation and Evolution

"Then a Miracle Occurs": cartoon by Sydney Harris

Then a Miracle Occurs –
cartoon by Sydney Harris

Growing up as a Creationist

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian, bible-believing household. And so, like many other conservative Christians, I grew up believing in creation as a scientifically valid explanation of existence. To be specific, I believed in young-earth creationism. This literalistic interpretation of the creation accounts in the book of Genesis was profoundly important to my Christian faith and to my view of the world. Although the title of Intelligent Design did not become part of the evangelical zeitgeist until a lawyer by the name of Phillip Johnson published a book called Darwin on Trial, the underpinnings for this concept were part of the fundamentalist world view. Johnson’s book, plus biologist Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box, laid the intellectual foundation for Intelligent Design, which has become so well-entrenched in the Protestant community that it is even taught in some seminaries.[1]

The belief in young-earth creationism is the idea that the book of Genesis is meant to be taken literally — that God created the heavens and the earth in a literal seven days of twenty-four hours duration. When combined with the genealogies found in the book of Genesis, the Anglican Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) determined that the heavens and the earth were created in 4004 BC. This interpretation of Genesis was widespread, and was incorporated into the 1701 printing of the King James Bible. Since the King James Version is accorded such profound respect, the incorporation of Archbishop Ussher’s conjecture became dogma.

When confronted by the higher critics and liberal theologians, an American businessman by the name of Lyman Stewart (along with his brother Milton), anonymously funded the creation of The Fundamentals, a series of 90 essays in defense of conservative Protestantism. The essays were not confined to any specific denomination, but represented a broad defense of the faith against the perceived (and sometimes real) onslaughts of the modern era.  Some of these essays explicitly attacked the scientific theory of evolution, which had the effect of codifying hostility to evolution as an article of faith.[2]

There are problems with the concept of young-earth creationism, problems that are apparent to any scientifically literate person. Yet there were always glib and somewhat satisfying answers to these questions. Like the apparent age of the universe, for example, which was explained away as God creating a fully functioning universe; so when he created the stars in the heavens, he created them with light that could be perceived by us. Thus the knowledge that the stars are billions of light-years away can be explained as a benevolent God creating a universe that was fully operational, which therefore appeared to be older than it actually is.[3]

I gradually became aware that a literalistic interpretation of Genesis was not the only way to interpret the text, and that in some ways it did violence to the author’s intent. Given that the grammatical-historical method of exegesis is widespread among conservative Protestants, the idea that the author may have written Genesis for a different purpose than we were using if for was troubling. Still, I could find no way to reconcile science and faith, especially when the most vocal proponents of science were actively hostile to religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

The Problem of Biofilm

The problem came to a head when I was reading about biofilms. In science class I remember looking into a drop of pond water and viewing a host of free-swimming microorganisms. Many of us are familiar with the ovoid shape of the paramecium, and the amorphous blob that is the amoeba. But what I failed to realize is that most microorganisms don’t exist in a free-floating (planktonic) state, but in groups called biofilms. A biofilm forms when organisms attach to a solid surface, and build a matrix that binds them together, and to the solid surface. Organisms in a biofilm thrive through cooperation, not competition.

Picture of biofilm


The plaque that forms on our teeth overnight? Biofilm. The slick, slimy surface of rocks in a stream? Biofilm. One of the more interesting things about biofilm is that it is generally not comprised of one type of microorganism, but “in nature biofilms almost always consist of rich mixtures of many species of bacteria, as well as fungi, algae, yeasts, protozoa, other microorganisms, debris and corrosion products”, all joined by a matrix of extracellular polymeric substance (EPS). (Montana State University n.d.)  When a free-floating microorganism becomes part of a biofilm, its phenotype changes — meaning it can change its shape and function through alterations in the expression of its genetic material.[4] (Montana State University n.d.) Through a communication mechanism known as quorum sensing, the bacterium understands that it is part of a biofilm, and begins to actively participate in colony behavior, rather than individual behavior. (Proal 2008)

Diagram of Biofilm Quorum Sensing

Biofilm Quorum Sensing

It is not always the case that biofilm is formed by a mixture of microorganisms. Cholera, for example, forms a biofilm in the intestines, which is spread when parts of the colony are dispersed  and are expelled from the intestines, allowing cholera to spread to another host. Peptic ulcers are caused by biofilms of Heliobacter pylori. The pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa forms biofilms in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis. These and other biofilms are extremely durable and resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents. (Mah and O’Toole 2001)

Various Modes of Biofilm Movement

Various Modes of Biofilm Movement

As a colony, biofilm can behave as a single organism.  The biofilm can move, can grow, and can reproduce. (Montana State University n.d.) It contains channels that allow nutrients to circulate. (Proal 2008) Being part of a biofilm is beneficial to a microorganism because the biofilm protects its members from environmental hazards. It is considerably more difficult to kill a microorganism existing in a biofilm than one in a planktonic (free-floating) state, which is why we have to brush our teeth to mechanically break up the biofilm rather than just use mouthwash.

Faith and Science

From my exploration of biofilms I saw an existing pathway whereby a microorganism could become part of a multi-cellular colony — a colony that, in many ways, behaved like a multi-cellular organism. From there the development of a multi-cellular organism suddenly seemed reasonable. And so I began to reexamine many of the pat answers I had been given for young-earth creation, and discovered most of them were nonsense.

  • The argument from the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is faulty, because the Earth is not a closed system.
  • The supposed scientific evidences for a young earth (like pleochroic halos), are arguments made by non-specialists, which have been debunked by specialists.
  • The supposed inaccuracies of the various dating methods are accounted for in the methodologies themselves.
  • The argument that radioactive isotopes may have decayed at different rates in the past is theological nonsense. It postulates a trickster God who has more in common with the gods of pagan mythologies than the God of the Bible.

And so on, and so forth. Many of these pat answers had been debunked for decades, yet continue to be proclaimed from pulpits and written up in books for the gullible masses — among whom I number myself. All this would have posed a challenge to my faith, had I not become aware that my literalistic interpretation of Genesis may not have been the author’s intent. Genesis is God’s opening salvo in the war against the pagan gods. You worship the god of rain? Our God created the rain. You worship the god of fertility? Our God created mankind, male and female, and told them to go forth and multiply. Viewed in this light, the creation accounts speak to the relationship God has with His creation, and specifically with humanity.

The creation accounts in Genesis are theological accounts, not scientific descriptions. How do we know that? From the incorporation of ancient cosmologies. God did not see fit to incorporate the details of modern cosmology into the Genesis accounts. Thus in Genesis 1:7, we have an account of waters in the sky, a concept in total accord with ancient cosmology, but without foundation in modern science. Professor John H. Walton (Wheaton College), in his book The Lost World of Genesis One, describes the attempt to make the ancient cosmology fit modern science as “concordism”. Dr. Hugh Ross, or the organization “Reasons to Believe”, defines Concordism as “the belief that the book of nature and the book of Scripture significantly overlap and can be constructively integrated.” (Ross 2012) The problem with concordism is that any description of ancient cosmology is explained away.[5] The “four corners of the earth”, the “pillars of the earth”, the ancient notion of the “firmament” as a solid dome — all are conveniently dismissed  as figures of speech.

This last, the idea of the firmament as a solid dome, is extremely important to our understanding of the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). The ancients not only believed the firmament was a solid dome, but that it could be pierced by a tower, giving them answers as to the composition of the heavens. (3 Baruch 3:1-8) If the firmament in Genesis 1:7 is a figure of speech, how then to explain the Tower of Babel, which was based upon the same ancient cosmology?

The Relationship Between God and His Creation

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). In these opening words of the bible, the challenge is made to paganism and all forms of false religion. The truth claims of the Old Testament cannot be ignored. They must be dealt with. Syncretism will not work, because the Bible claims to be the ultimate truth. The cosmos serves as a revelation of God, as an expression of His nature.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:26-27). The Bible not only claims to ultimate truths about reality, but about human beings in particular. In the creation accounts, human beings are part of the created order, and yet God pays particular attention to human beings.  Therefore human beings are part of God’s general revelation of Himself, yet also are special in that humans alone were created in God’s image and likeness.  Numerous books have been written regarding what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, and this is not the place to go into that. It is enough to note that the first few verses of the bible provide a theological understanding of the nature of the world, of human beings, and God’s relationship with His created order.

Dualilsm - The Modern Worldview

Dualilsm – The Modern Worldview

When thinking about the natural world, and God’s relationship with it, we often use the terms natural and supernatural. Thus, we have the natural order, the world of matter and energy, and the supernatural world, the world of the non-corporeal beings and of God. This is a dualistic system, in which the material and spiritual are differentiated, and differ in value. But this is not the scriptural view. The scriptures speak of the created order  —  of the heavens, the earth, and the angelic powers — and of the uncreated God. The created order contains both the material and the spiritual, while God reigns over all — “ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same.” (St John Chrysostom 2011)

It will not do to speak of God as supernatural, as though God exists apart from His creation, only now and then reaching in and altering the natural laws to perform miracles. That is not what the Bible teaches. From the very moment of creation, God was intimately involved with the created order. From the very start, “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). The Bible tells us that God is actively involved in “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). Therefore it is wrong to speak of the natural and supernatural realms. Theologically, speaking in this way places God and the angels as part of the same order, making it difficult to separate the creator God from his non-corporeal creations. If God and the acts of God are all part of the same supernatural order, then in what way can we separate God from His creation? In what way are we speaking of a personal God, rather than an impersonal force, an organizing principle of sorts. No, speaking of God and His almighty acts as supernatural acts diminishes God, and brings Him down to our level.

And so we come to the various means of discussing the relationship between the scientific description of evolution, and the theological description of creation. There are those who seek to meld the two by proposing God as the answer for the unanswered questions of science. This “God of the Gaps” concept doesn’t work, because as science progresses, the gaps become ever more narrow, squeezing God out of the picture. This is the problem with Intelligent Design, because it is simply a variant of the God of the Gaps idea, postulating God as the answer to the question of irreducible complexity. But science is increasingly finding answers to the problems posed by Intelligent Design, once again squeezing God out of the picture.[6]

For many evangelical Christians who are also scientists, the concept of Theistic Evolution is a satisfying one. The idea is that God created the universe and everything in it, using the process of evolution. When coupled with the theological concept of God’s foreknowledge, it seems possible that God created a process that would ultimately result in human beings. The problem with Theistic Evolution, in its most common formulations, is that it is based upon the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. As Francis S. Collins describes it, Theistic Evolution postulates God as the special cause of the existence of the Moral Law and the universal search for God that exists within humanity. But this is imposing a theological and supernatural explanation for the uniqueness of humanity, rather than a scientific one. Therefore, the concept of theistic evolution will not do.

Personally, I am comfortable with understanding that God created the heavens and the earth, and created humanity in the image the likeness of God. I am also comfortable with the scientific explanations for the origins of the material world, of life, and of human beings. I see no conflict between the two, but I also see no need to create some sort of grand unified theory. Science answers the questions that theology does not, and theology answers the questions that science does not. Each can inform the other, but attempting a formal unification stifles the human element in both.

For some,It is comforting to think of science and theology as operating in two different domains, but the scriptures tell us otherwise. God is everywhere, and in everything, and upholds all things by the word of his power. Placing God into His own domain apart from science is nothing more than placing God in a box, tying that box with a pretty bow, and placing God on the shelf where we can admire Him from a distance.

This reminds me of Forest Gump’s speech at Jenny’s grave. “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” To me, the answer to Forest Gump’s question about destiny and the modern question regarding creation and evolution are similar. Maybe both are happening at the same time. It’s kind of like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: when we look only at the creation ex nihilo, we miss the science; and when we look only at the science, we miss God.


Applegate, Aaron. “Feral hogs are running wild in Back Bay refuge.” PilotOnline.com. January 20, 2014. http://hamptonroads.com/2014/01/feral-hogs-are-running-wild-back-bay-refuge (accessed March 15, 2014).

Collins, Francis S. The Language of God. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Harmon, Katherine. “When Grasshoppers Go Biblical: Serotonin Causes Locusts to Swarm.” Scientific American. January 30, 2009. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-grasshoppers-go-bibl/ (accessed March 15, 2014).

Mah, Thien-Fah C., and George A. O’Toole. “Mechanisms of biofilm resistance to antibicrobial agents.” TRENDS in Microbiology 9, no. 1 (2001): 34-39.

Matin, A. C. “Biofilm Studies.” Matin Lab Home Page. n.d. http://www.stanford.edu/~amatin/MatinLabHomePage/Biofilm.htm (accessed March 15, 2014).

Montana State University. “Center for Biofilm Engineering.” What are biofilms? n.d. http://www.biofilm.montana.edu/node/2390 (accessed March 15, 2014).

—. “What are key characteristics of biofilms?” Center for Biofilm Engineering. n.d. http://www.biofilm.montana.edu/node/2410 (accessed March 15, 2014).

Proal, Amy. “Understanding Biofilms.” Bacteriality. May 26, 2008. http://bacteriality.com/2008/05/26/biofilm/ (accessed March 15, 2014).

Ross, Hugh. “Defending Concordism.” Reasons to Believe. July 16, 2012. http://www.reasons.org/articles/defending-concordism (accessed March 15, 2014).

St John Chrysostom. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Amazon Digital Services, 2011.

Wikipedia. Biofilm. February 26, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofilm (accessed March 15, 2014).






[1] I remember seminarians at Concordia Theological Seminary telling stories of Lutheran professor and theologian Kurt Marquart (of blessed memory) and his engrossing lectures on the subject.

[2] Three titles specifically addressing the Theory of Evolution are as follows: The Passing of Evolution – George Frederick Wright; Evolutionism in the Pulpit – Anonymous; and Decadence of Darwinism – Henry H. Beach. There are other essays which discuss evolution in a range of contexts, which are basically hostile. One that is not is Science and the Faith by James Orr, who argues for science and faith as operating in different domains.

[3] The concept of apparent age is not a scientific concept, because 1) it doesn’t really explain anything, and 2) no testable hypothesis can be derived from it. Instead, it is a theological concept used to resolve otherwise insurmountable difficulties. In this, it has much in common with the deus ex machine of literature, where a seemingly insurmountable difficulty is resolved by some unexpected intervention — like the appearance of the adults at the end of William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies.

[4] Many organisms have one genotype which can be expressed as different phenotypes, depending on conditions. For example, certain grasshopper species change their phenotype due to overcrowding, becoming locusts. Locusts look and behave differently than grasshoppers, yet are the same species. In fact, an individual grasshopper can become a locust within 2-3 hours, while the transition back to grasshopper takes several days. (Harmon 2009) Domestic swine, when released into the wild, undergo transformation into a wild hog. The phenotype for the domestic pig and the wild hog are both contained within the genotype of the swine, but the expression of the genotype changes as environmental conditions change. (Applegate 2014)

[5] Another major problem with concordism is that it uses evidence from science to explain away science. It uses the discipline of science to prove the Bible, when the scientific consensus is always subject to change as new evidence presents itself. Thus Newtonian physics gave way to quantum mechanics, and so on. Proving the Bible through science is the equivalent of building your house on shifting sand. Eventually the rains come, and then your faith is shaken.

[6] Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, and also an evangelical Christian, describes how the standard arguments for Intelligent Design —  the blood-clotting cascade, the eye, and the bacterial flagellum — all are being answered by science, which dismantles the scientific pretentions of Intelligent Design. From a scientific perspective, Intelligent Design is not scientific because it is not forward looking: it fails to predict other findings and suggest other avenues of scientific exploration. (Collins 2006, 186-193)


Man as the Recapitulation of God’s Creation

The Creation of Adam and Eve

The Creation of Adam and Eve

Man, the greater world contained in a lesser, is the combination of all things, the recapitulation of God’s creation, which is why he was produced last of all, just as we put an epilogue at the end of speeches; in fact, you could say that this universe is the composition of the person of the Word Himself. Man, then, brings his mind and senses into unity with the greater wisdom of Him who is able to mingle elements that cannot be mixed, by using his imagination, opinion and thought as intermediaries, as genuine bonds of the extremes.

Man and the world are in communion with each other, but whereas the world is greater than man in magnitude, man transcends it in intelligence. He is stored up like treasure within the world, like a very precious object kept in a large house and worth much more than the building that contains it.

Palamas, St. Gregory (2013-08-21). Mary the Mother of God: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (Kindle Locations 880-884, 887-888). Mount Thabor Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Dumitru Staniloae on The Meaning of Existence

Cover of The Holy Trinity by Dumitru Staniloae

The Holy Trinity by Dumitru Staniloae

Because it is without beginning, supreme existence is eternally happy in and of itself without needing to develop at all. In order to reach this state and unite themselves with supreme existence, created beings need to make an effort of their own free will. They can only progress through that freedom that has been given to them as they follow laws that are an expression of the good will of God, or of supreme Reason. But once reason has been given to them, they can use it to oppose the good that supreme Reason and its laws demand of conscious things. They can use reason in a distorted manner to justify orienting themselves toward deceitful goals, or to promote their own egoism. Goodness desires to rest in a free harmony established among conscious things and between them and God. But selfishness opposes the good, and therefore opposes God. It ruptures the Reason that brings harmony among all things, and between everything and God. This shows once again the creation too must contribute something if it is to have unity with God. But the Holy Trinity, in which the most perfect harmony and love reside, helps creation makes its contribution. The Son of God Himself helps humanity realize this unity. The Father uses the Son, just as He uses Reason, for the sake of creation.

You can order The Holy Trinity by Dumitru Staniloae directly from the Holy Cross Bookstore, or from Amazon.com.

Why Humans Matter

An image of the cover for "The Lost World of Genesis One"

The Lost World of Genesis One

Embedded in the book “Why Mary Matters” is a long section on theological anthropology, or what it means to be human (Part III: Cosmology and Anthropology). Shortly after releasing the book I came across the book “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. This book is unique in that it looks at Genesis using the figurative literal, grammatical/historical hermeneutic so beloved by fundamentalists and evangelicals, and comes up with conclusions that are remarkably similar to those taught by the church fathers.

Of particular interest, because it fits so well with “Why Mary Matters”, is John Walton’s description of the creation of humans on the sixth day. He has already spent a great deal of time developing the idea that the Creation accounts in Genesis are functional rather than material, based on his understanding of ancient near eastern cosmology and world view. Regarding humanity, he writes:

“The difference when we get to the creation of people is that even as they function to populate the world (like fish, birds and animals), they also have a function relative to the rest of God’s creatures, to subdue and rule. Not only that, but they have a function relative to God as they are in his image. They also have a function relative to each other as they are designated male and female. All these show the functional orientation with no reference to the material at all. …All of the rest of creation functions in relationship to humankind, and humankind serves the rest of creation and God’s vice regent.”

What John Walton misses is that humans were created to be the priests of creation, to offer it up to God. This is likely because he, like most Protestants, is not sacramental himself, and so misses the sacramental elements in Sacred Scripture. Still, Walton does notice that the Genesis accounts are functional, in that they describe the building of God’s temple; when His temple was complete, he rested. However, resting doesn’t mean lazing about, but it means that God took up His rightful place  in His temple, and began His rightful work of engaging with His creation. Walton describes humans being God’s “vice-regents”, when it would better suit his thesis if humanity were the priests of God’s temple.

I highly recommend John Walton’s book to anyone interesting in the origins debate. Walton provides a way to understand the creation accounts that should be palatable to the evangelical, and perhaps the fundamentalist, as it does not violate any of their principles of interpretation. Yet this way does not dictate any particular view regarding the creation of the material world, as that is not what the author of the text is concerned with.

Why do humans matter? Because they were created in the image and likeness of God to serve as priests in God’s temple. Why does Mary matter? Because she was the one through whom the Son of God was born after the flesh, so that He might conquer sin, death, and the devil, restoring us to our position as priests of His creation.