Dr. Timothy Keller, a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), is the influential pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City. As a minister of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), Keller confesses belief in the Bible as God's inerrant word. It is thus disappointing that Keller has recently posted an article “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople” at biologos, a science/Christianity blog heavily slanted towards theistic evolution.
Can Christians believe in evolution, particularly human evolution? Yes, says Dr. Keller. He concludes,
“Even though in this paper I argue for the importance of belief in a literal Adam and Eve, I have shown here that there are several ways to hold that and still believe in God using evolutionary biological processes.”
Although he mentions various schemes for reconciling an evolutionary Adam with an authoritative Bible, none seem very plausible—either scientifically or biblically. Various difficulties with such a compromise were addressed in my article “Evolution and the fall”.
In this post I want to concentrate only on Keller's treatment of Genesis 1 and 2. As Keller notes, reconciling the Bible with evolution involves a non-literal view of at least Genesis 1.
So how does Keller establish that Genesis 1should not be taken literally? His prime argument is that the order of Genesis 1 contradicts that of Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, Keller claims, “there is vegetation (Day 3) before there was any atmosphere (Day 4, when the sun was made) and therefore vegetation before rain was possible.” On the other hand, Keller argues, Gen.2:5 states categorically that God did not put vegetation in the earth before there was an atmosphere and rain. Since Genesis 1 and 2 contradict, they can't both be taken literally. According to Keller, the natural order is the norm in Genesis 2. Hence, he concludes, it is much more likely that we should read the order of events as literal in Genesis 2, rather than in Genesis 1.
Keller sums up this section:
“It means Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days. …it does not preclude the possibility of the earth being extremely old. We arrive at this conclusion not because we want to make room for any particular scientific view of things, but because we are trying to be true to the text, listening as carefully as we can to the meaning of the inspired author.”
What are we to make of this?
Suppose, for the moment, that Keller is right: Genesis 1 and 2 do conflict, with Genesis 2 having the historically reliable order of events.
On Keller's own reading of Gen.2:5, there are two reasons for lack of vegetation: no rain and no man. This entails that Adam was created before vegetation. Following the account of Genesis 2, we would then have to conclude that also animals were created after Adam (indeed, how could animals exist without vegetation?).
Yet this, if anything, makes things much worse for anyone trying to reconcile Genesis with evolution. Not only is the order worse but also the timescale is even more condensed than that of Genesis 1: now all living things are created in just one day, rather than in four. Keller, perhaps prudently, says nothing about such embarrassing consequences of his exegetical logic.
But, do Genesis 1 and 2 in fact conflict? Most commentators think not. Let's take a closer look.
Note, first, that Keller claims Genesis 1 has vegetation (Day 3) created before the atmosphere on Day 4. Yet Day 4 relates only the creation of the Sun, moon and stars, placed in an already existing sky. Surely the creation of the atmosphere occurs on Day 2, when God created heaven (sky or atmosphere) to separate the waters. Further, there is no specific mention of rain--or its absence-- in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2 we are told there was no rain but, rather, the earth was watered by an edh, an obscure Hebrew word which is usually translated as mist, spring, waters of the deep, or flood. Umberto Cassuto (Commentary on Genesis, 1961, p.104) argues it refers to springs.
Note, also, that Gen.1 and Gen.2:5 do not refer to vegetation in the same terms. Genesis 1 refers to the creation (Day 3) of "plants (eseb) yielding seeds" and fruit trees. Gen.2:5, presumably referring to Day 6, states, "when no bush (siah) of the field was yet in the earth and no small plant (eseb) of the field had yet sprung up."
As Cassuto (1961:100-102) remarks, Gen.2:5 does not say all vegetation was absent. It refers only to two special types of plants. The siah of the field refers to thorns and thistles, which require rain to propagate, and which did not exist until after Adam sinned; the eseb of the field refers to grain, which requires human cultivation (it occurs again in Gen.3:18), and which had not yet sprung up or sprouted. James Jordan (Creation in Six Days, 53-54) takes a similar position. We note, en passant, that the fact that the eseb created on Day 3 had not yet sprung up or sprouted on Day 6 speaks against a day-age view.
In sum, there is no contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2. The fact that Dr Keller goes out of his way to invent such contradiction belies his professed commitment to remain true to the text. It undercuts his denial that he is motivated by scientific pressures. Dr. Keller seems more concerned to deconstruct Genesis--to leave room for secular science-- than to honestly exegete it. Given such a cavalier approach to Scripture, it is not surprizing that Keller sees no problem reconciling Adam with human evolution.