A retrospective on my last decade’s work

I thought it would be worth spending a few posts looking back on what has turned out to be a fruitful “research programme” on scientific and biblical origins over the last ten years for me, to see what problems have been resolved, and which, if any, remain unanswered.

Of course, it’s true to say that no solutions one finds to these questions will satisfy everybody: people totally convinced of one explanation of Scripture will reject any others out of hand, whereas the skeptic convinced that the Bible is pious fiction will reject any signs of accommodation between science and Scripture on principle.

By way of introduction, let me recount how I first began this, even a year or so before The Hump of the Camel took its first tentative infant steps (what is the correct term for a baby dromedary?).

I took early retirement from medicine when the opportunity arose suddenly, intending to do some serious writing, after experience in both medical and Christian journalism. But I actually hadn’t thought out what to write about.

Nevertheless my first project was ready to go: a series of features for the magazine on whose editorial board I then served, forming a series called Unsystematic Theology. The idea was to take a series of the theological subjects that seemed most relevant to contemporary Christians, without attempting to be exhaustive. So I spent the first month or so of my post-career work on it, and sent the whole series off to my editor as a job lot.

As the months went by I began to wonder why the first part hadn’t appeared, whilst my regular columns on current affairs turned up as usual. After about a year, I asked about it and got an apologetic phone call from the editor. It turned out he’d been sitting on the series because of the first part, which logically enough was on the doctrine of creation. And the reason was that, in his view, the magazine had an unwritten policy in support of young earth creationism, and I had mentioned that some version of evolution did not necessarily clash with Genesis 1.

The absurd thing was that the whole piece was written to avoid the tired old debates of Creationism versus Evolutionism, and to view the biblical doctrine of creation as a rich and multi-faceted truth about God, with implications for every part of life.

Anyway, the editor, though he respected both me my work, wouldn’t change his mind, and I wouldn’t back down, and so the magazine and I parted company after fifteen years. But the episode got me wondering again about the link between the historical sciences and the Bible that had been part of my life since I was six (and discovered dinosaurs and evolution), particularly after I was converted at the age of 13 at the height of my ambition to study zoology.

Although I went through various stages of opinion over the years, “faith science conflict” was never a personal problem for me. I was both interested and well-grounded in the sciences dealing with the past, and (to be frank) the world didn’t make much sense without taking them seriously – one can only take “appearance of age” arguments so far before they become encumbrances rather than explanations.

On the other hand, in 1971 I had a vivid encounter with the Holy Spirit, which transformed my relationship to Scripture, convincing me that it is the living word of God (as it were, Christ himself on paper). Before, I’d believed the Bible because it was part of the faith I’d embraced – afterwards, and ever since, I believe it because it’s part of me. To quote something from one of Os Guinness’s books: “I knew the Bible was true, but I didn’t know it was that true!”

The net effect was to make me comfortable to live with the apparent tensions between science and the Bible. But I was aware that the stakes were far higher for others, whereas for me it was a matter of consolidating two undoubted truths. In particular, I kept remembering a visit from one of the members of the youth group I’d once led, who came round with a friend also struggling to accept biblical faith in the light of A-level science. I think, given what I knew then, I made a reasonable fist of pointing them to Jesus first, and seeking the answers in the light of his wisdom.

But my pique at having an entire series of articles rejected over the issue resolved me to try, if I could, to find some answers. I did, after all, have training both in the biological sciences and in theology, and an active interest in the matter going back for what is now sixty years. And that’s how I found myself interacting at BioLogos, agreeing to a couple of suggestions that I should start a blog, and to the urgings of others to write what have become two books, God’s Good Earth and The Generations of Heaven and Earth.

I see that my autobiographical self-indulgence has left me little space to address the actual issues here, so I will stop today by listing what seem to me the problems I brought with me as I looked for solutions consistent both with our knowledge of nature and theological orthodoxy. I’ll deal with them in subsequent posts – and meanwhile, if you can think of any common and important questions I missed, please mention them in the comments.

Common problems on origins:

  • 6 Day recent creation
  • Old earth with death, carnivores and natural evils – creation “groaning” for 13bn years?
  • Creation with no need for a Creator
  • The impossibility of Adam (and the existence of early humans and intelligent precursors)
  • Mankind as ruler of earth coming late to the party.
  • Worldwide flood
  • The natural evolution of mankind with consciousness, spirit and eternal life
  • The origin of spiritual evil (Satan before the Fall)
Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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