Yesterday my son was rapt with a new book on dinosaurs. It was nice and thick and full of obscure dinosaur names that even I find difficult to pronounce. Takes me back to when I was a young boy. But because of that, I know questions about dinosaurs and God aren’t too far away. Sooner or later he’s going to twig to the fact that the popular interpretation of Genesis and the popular interpretation of evolution don’t gel too well. So, what’s my take on it?
Quite simple. I think the popular interpretation of Genesis and evolution are both deficient, at least in some respects.
Firstly, evolution. I think the theory of evolution by mutation and natural selection has enormous explanatory power. But I think it’s misguided to think we have a completed theory. I think it’s misguided to conclude everything can be explained by reductionism. I think it’s misguided to conclude evolution rules out an open universe, and hence, God. Indeed, I think that convergent evolution (seen, for instance, in the similar body design of ichthyosaurs, dolphins and sharks) suggests external constraints have as much a part to play as internal coding, that reductionism needs to be balanced out with contextualism. In short, however powerful the theory of evolution may be, evolution is contextual.
Secondly, Genesis. I think the Bible is authoritative, but I’m not convinced our theology is so God breathed. Theologies, like our scientific theories, are contextual, incomplete and sometimes just plain wrong. Of particular relevance here are theologies of the fall. Most popular theologies focus on “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, virtually ignoring “the tree of life”. When I was younger, wrestling over the dinosaur question, I asked myself, “How could dinosaurs have become extinct before humans arrived in the world if death did not exist in the world before the fall?” It eventually dawned to me to ask, “Why the heck is the tree of life in the story?” If humanity was not subject to death, why the second tree? Why a tree of life?
In a flash I realised life the trees were symbolizing two mutually exclusive choises! The more I read the more it hit me that there was nothing in the text to suggest eternity was something humanity already had, it was more like an option we were being offered. Thus, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, while popularly interpreted as the introduction of death into the world, could just as easily be interpreted as the loss of the opportunity to live forever. It was not an opt-out situation for humanity, it was an opt-in one. Indeed, when I thought about it, if the eating of plants can be seen as a type of death, death was already in the world. Thus the resolution: an interpretation that takes the tree of life as a lost opportunity is not incompatable with pre-fall dinosaur extinctions.
For me this raise all sorts of interesting questions about entropy. Is entropy of the creation or of the fall? If entropy is of the creation, how can we say it is evil without going Gnostic? If entropy is of the fall, how did time exist before the fall? From this exploration I’m inclined to say: entropy is of the creation, it is therefore not evil in and of itself, it is just not the highest good, it is not where God wants to leave us. Having been made in the image of God, we were offered a challenge: what does it mean to be God-like? We failed. We chose self-centredness. But Jesus overcame where we did not. He chose other-centredness. The cross of death is the tree of life offered once again.