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Darwin's Forgotten Christian Defenders

By the very early 1900s, even conservative theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary acknowledged to varying degrees:


a) the lengthy history of the earth,
b) the transmutation of species by evolution, and even,
c) an evolutionary past for the human physical form.


Such theologians included B.B. Warfield, the famous Presbyterian inerrantist, whose famed defense of Scriptural inerrancy and plenary verbal inspiration was published in the Princeton Review (1881), and republished since then (B.B. Warfield and Hodge, A.A., Inspiration. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), and who continues to be highly regarded among conservative Protestants.


Even when the twelve-volume series, The Fundamentals (an interdenominational work that spearheaded this century's "fundamentalist" movement), was published between 1910 and 1915, it contained the cautiously pro-evolution stances of conservative Christian theologians like George Frederick Wright, R.A. Torrey, and James Orr. (It was only in the eighth collection of The Fundamentals that the previous cautious advocacy of evolution was matched by two decisively and aggressively anti-Darwin statements, one by someone who remained anonymous and another by the relatively unknown Henry Beach, both of whom lacked the theological and scientific standing of the senior evangelicals already mentioned.)


Reverend Orr, one of the more renowned contributors to The Fundamentals, was a theologian of the United Free Church College in Glasgow and widely respected as an apologist for Evangelicalism, but expressed doubts as to how literal, Genesis, chapter 3, ought to be taken: "I do not enter into the question of how we are to interpret the third chapter of Genesis -- whether as history or allegory or myth, or most probably of all, as old tradition clothed in oriental allegorical dress..." [James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World (1897), p. 185, see also p. 447


Evangelical Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, admitted he was not disturbed by the thought of Genesis being "...derived from earlier Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical" [C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Collins, Fontana Books, 1958), p. 93]. "We read in Genesis (2:7) that God formed man of the dust and breathed life into him. For all the first writer knew of it, this passage might merely illustrate the survival, even in a truly creational story, of the Pagan inability to conceive true Creation, the savage, pictorial tendency to imagine God making things 'out of' something as the potter or the carpenter does." [Lewis' essay, "Scripture," in Reflections on the Psalms] Lewis found more truth in the story of the "Garden of Eden" when he regard it as a myth than as history. [See, Michael J. Christensen, C. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, The Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancy (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1979), pp. 34-35)]


Evangelical Christian theologian, Henri Blocher, wrote: "The style [of Genesis chapter 3] is lively and picturesque; the pictures take shape spontaneously in the reader's mind. The Lord God takes on a human form: we see him mold clay, breathe into man's nostrils, walk in the garden when the breeze gets up and make for the guilty couple better clothes than their improvised cloths. There is a dream-like garden with strange trees and a cunning animal who opens a conversation; you could believe you were in one of those artless legends, one of those timeless stories which are the fascination of fokelore..." [Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (InterVarsity Press, 1984)]


Other Evangelical Christian theologians and commentators on Genesis who take the ancient Near Eastern background of Genesis seriously, including related myths, folklore, and pre-scientific cosmologies of the ancients, include:


John H. Walton, past professor Old Testament at Moody Bible Institute, and professor at Wheaton Theological Seminary, author of Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2001) Take a peek at it next time you're in Zondervan's Bookstore, or some other major Evangelical Christian bookstore, and note especially what he has to say about "the firmament," the use of "satan" in the old testament, and whether the serpent was originally understood as just being a "serpent," or not. Dr. Walton's keynote address at Wheaton's Cosmology Conference in 2003 (where he presented his view of Genesis 1 to the conference attendees).


Conrad Hyers, former Bob Jones University student and former Chair of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College (retired), author of The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science (Word, 1984) Also author of the online article: "Genesis Knows Nothing of Scientific Creationism:
Interpreting and Misinterpreting the Biblical Texts" NCSE Issue 12 Volume 4
Frederick E. Greenspahn, Jewish scholar, aurhot of "Biblical Views of Creation" NCSE Issue 13 Volume 4


Dr. Stephen Meyers (Th.M., Old Testament Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1989. Thesis entitled, "A Biblical Cosmogony." Dr. Meyers' exegesis of Genesis appears at his site.


It is agreed upon by all historians that at least some early fathers of the Christian church did believe in a flat earth. And those fathers who believed in a spherical earth still believed that the spherical earth did not move and that the "firmament" was solid. Holy Scripture continued to be cited in support of those latter two assertions for centuries. Origen called the firmament "without doubt firm and solid" (First Homily on Genesis, FC 71). Ambrose, commenting on Genesis 1:6, said, "the specific solidity of this exterior firmament is meant" (Hexameron, FC 42.60). And Saint Augustine said the word firmament was used "to indicate not that it is motionless but that it is solid and that it constitutes an impassable boundary between the waters above and the waters below" (The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ACW 41.1.61).
More importantly, for millennia before the early church, ancient Near Eastern civilizations had agreed the earth was flat, you can see it in their writings and pictures of the cosmos. The flat earth view was undeniably prominent in Babylon, Egypt, and Greece during the time when the Old Testament was written. Even during the intertestamental period (after the Old but before the New) Jewish literature like the Book of Enoch spoke unmistakably of the shape of the earth as flat. The New Testament writers from the Gospels to Rev. also seem to take for granted the flatness of the earth. So whatever the "early church fathers" believed, such a question is not of major importance since they lived after the Old Testament, the Intertestamental period, and the New Testament, which were all "flat-earth" thinking periods of Biblical composition.


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