Young Icelanders seem confused about God and science

Sistine

Yet another story from The Washington Post that I meant to post about over the weekend…

I was intrigued by this headline:

In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the Earth

The story reports that “Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.”

That apparently includes the 40 percent or so of younger people in the increasingly secular country who still consider themselves to be Christian.

I tried to find out how that could be, and the explanation was confusing:

Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country. But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God,” she said….

Yeah. Got that. I don’t see any reason why acceptance of science would diminish faith in God — I’ve always found that simplistic dichotomy (God on one side, science on the other) — to be rather absurd, with the battle over evolution being one of the more ridiculous manifestations.

But I don’t see how it would affect people’s belief that God made the world, either.

I’ve always thought evolution is exactly the way God would create people and other species — a majestically slow, dignified, enormously complex process, rather than some Cecil B. DeMille, abracadabra “poof!”

Same with the geological eons to create the world on which all these species live.

Yeah, I get it that some people are very literal-minded, and they think that if it didn’t happen in the six days set out in the Genesis allegory, then God must have had nothing to do with it.

So if this survey is right, every single person who lives in Iceland is that literal-minded.

Which surprises me…

So basically, these folks are the opposite of deists, who believed God did create the world, but then left it alone…

The story even acknowledges what seems obvious to me, which is that “some Christians believe both in the Big Bang theory and God’s role.” So… how does that lead to no one believing God created the world?

Maybe the story’s just not well-written…

18 thoughts on “Young Icelanders seem confused about God and science

  1. Norm Ivey

    Wish they had posted a link to the poll itself. I wonder if the question referenced led respondents to think in terms of a young earth, 7-day Creation scenario.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Mobley

    It’s sort of irksome, though understandable, that evolution and the Big Bang theory often seem to get conflated. As I understand it, the main upshot of the Big Bang theory is the idea that the universe had a beginning (as opposed to having always existed). In this aspect, the Big Bang theory would be consistent with a theistic worldview.

    Darwinian evolution as the explanation of life on earth is really quite a different subject than the Big Bang theory. And whether it is compatible with theism generally, and/or with the Bible in particular, are each distinct questions in themselves.

    I certainly agree that God could have used evolution to bring about the marvelous diversity of biological life that exists on this planet, but whether one believes that’s the way He did it depends on a little bit more than whether Genesis is viewed as allegory.

    For example, Romans 5:12-14 seems to be predicated on the existence of Adam as an actual, historical person (this is a line of argument I heard on a podcast-like thing being discussed by John Piper–“ask Pastor John” is what it was called, I think).

    Anyway, I don’t believe in excommunicating people over evolution, nor am I in possession of a unified theory of creation that can answer all questions. But I’m skeptical of Genesis-as-allegory.

    But back to your point. I also find that headline intriguing.

    Reply
  3. Bart

    Did God create the heavens and earth? Did God create us in his image as told in the Bible? My belief and faith agrees with the biblical account. What I don’t know is the how and how long it actually took for God to do His work over the six days as it is written in the book of Genesis. There are references in the Bible that make it clear that God’s time and our time are not the same. To God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand days is like a year. To me this is a clear indication that one of God’s days could be 10 thousand years, 10 million years, or pick any number you like that suits your theology the best.

    When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, did their appearance change because they “ate the apple and sinned”? Was this perhaps one of the consequences of their sin? If they were created in the image of God, is it reasonable to ask that once they sinned, they no longer reflected the image of God and took on a completely different physical appearance? Did their appearance change to one of a being no longer free of sin to one that reflected what sin looks like in the physical body instead of a spiritual one?

    When the theory of evolution was introduced and subsequently the theory of how life began did anyone ask how the first cell was able to survive, multiply, and eventually take on the shape of a living being? Was the being or however one cares to describe it able to reproduce without another being made the same way but of a different sex? Did the same process of evolution the same for all of the animals that populated the earth? I do know there are some species that are capable of self-reproduction or parthenogenesis. Was this the way the first humans were able to evolve?

    What are the odds of a speck of inert material coming to life by a spark of energy and the speck being able to survive, reproduce cells, grow into a viable form of life, reproduce, and continue to evolve into what we know as humans and other creatures that have and still populated the earth for millions of years according to scientific research and findings? The survival of the life form would depend on the environment being perfect and safe from any potential danger.

    According to some scientists in a recent discovery, the Cryogenian period was approximately 635 to 850 million years ago and did have some lifeforms, sponges. They apparently survived the “Snowball Earth” event when the earth was mostly covered with ice. Who knows, maybe they are our ancestors. Could we be the sponges that evolved to a higher level than other sponges?

    Jeff posted an interesting comment. Was the book of Genesis an allegory since there are many instances in the Bible where parables and examples are used to make a point or teach a lesson? One allegory used is in Galatians 4:24 that refer to Hagar and Sarah where the word is used to describe how Hagar’s children would be born into slavery and Sarah’s would be free. Some translations do not use the word but other do.

    There is nothing wrong with asking questions and wondering about such things but in the end, it is faith and belief in God and Jesus that is important to me, not how old the earth is or how did we come to be the beings we are today. Just how important is it to believe in the Big Bang Theory or to believe that God spoke the heavens and stars into being and used the Big Bang to accomplish His works? I guess it comes down to whether you believe in God the Creator or not.

    It is always important to remember that time has no beginning and there is no end to time just as there is no beginning or end to the universe. There is not a big bubble out there that if we were able to get to it would stop us dead in our tracks if we could live long enough to reach it. Then if we did reach it, what is beyond it would be the next question to ask and seek the answer.

    Thanks for reading my comments and hopefully you will understand that as a Christian, we are capable of thinking for ourselves and sometimes outside the box of traditional theology and some irrational beliefs that simply do not square or agree with the teachings of Jesus.

    Reply
    1. Jeff Mobley

      Bart, thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments. I do think many believe that time, like space, is itself a part of creation, and therefore did have a beginning.

      Reply
    2. Bryan Caskey

      What I don’t know is the how and how long it actually took for God to do His work over the six days as it is written in the book of Genesis. There are references in the Bible that make it clear that God’s time and our time are not the same.”

      I sort of line up with you on this. I don’t know if I view all of Genesis as an allegory, but I certainly leave room in my mind that the Bible is not 100% literal. To me, to view the entire Bible as a literal document does it a great disservice, as there are deeper meanings, double meanings, different interpretations, and some things that only make sense if viewed in a figurative sense.

      Oh, and the quote you were referencing: 2 Peter 3:8 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

      Just how important is it to believe in the Big Bang Theory or to believe that God spoke the heavens and stars into being and used the Big Bang to accomplish His works? I guess it comes down to whether you believe in God the Creator or not.

      I see the natural world, and I can’t help but marvel in it and think about how wonderfully it all works together. Thinking about how different plants and animals depend on each other, react to each other, and continue to grow and change, I just can’t help but think that this natural world was the product of God’s work. Every detail of the natural world just speaks to me of God.

      Reply
  4. bud

    I’ve always thought evolution is exactly the way God would create people and other species — a majestically slow, dignified, enormously complex process,
    -Brad

    That statement is blasphemy to many religious people who regard the Bible as the unerring, literal truth. That belief system rejects the so-called “guiding hand” view of creation. They do have a point. If the Bible is the word of God then is seems that a true believer should accept it as the truth. Therefore the universe is about 6,000 years old. Any other interpretation is a rejection of the Bible.

    Reply
    1. Jeff Mobley

      Bud, I can believe that the Bible is inerrant without believing that I understand it perfectly. I think many fall into the trap of interpreting a passage in a way that is unnecessarily restrictive. For example, there are passages that speak of “the foundations of the earth”. I believe some of these were once used by some to claim that the earth could not be round. Today, most Christians would not regard the idea of a round earth as contradicting scripture. That doesn’t mean the Bible is any less true, it means earlier believers drew an unnecessarily specific conclusion.
      So, obviously I am subject to similar pitfalls in interpreting scripture. So I acknowledge my limited capacity to perfectly interpret scripture (not to mention the various disagreements among serious scholars and theologians throughout history), while maintaining my belief that the Bible is true, and using my reason as best I can to allow scripture to inform me, even when the interpretation is not unquestionably clear.

      Reply
    2. Bart

      bud,

      On Sunday, I watched Dr. Ed Young, a very good minister, preacher, evangelist, or whatever one cares to call him. Even he commented about some of the early events in the Bible are 10,000 years old. And, I don’t think he rejects the Bible, not at all. Billy Graham tells us to ask questions, investigate, read the Bible, and think about the things we read. It is not wrong to wonder and ask “why”?

      Reply
    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, whether it’s blasphemy to some people or not, if you’ve read a lot in your life, you can see the difference between a poem or a story written to make a moral point (what I mean here by “allegory”) and something that describes actual events.

      The Gospels, at least in part, have realism, partly because of the inclusion of irrelevant detail, and the little touches that make no moral point but reveal character and context. They come across as accounts by people who were there, even though they may be told at second or third hand.

      Take the wedding at Cana. That was the Gospel reading Jan. 17 in Catholic churches.

      Take this bit:

      When the wine ran short,
      the mother of Jesus said to him,
      “They have no wine.”
      And Jesus said to her,
      “Woman, how does your concern affect me?
      My hour has not yet come.”
      His mother said to the servers,
      “Do whatever he tells you.”

      There are hints of a lifelong relationship between mother and son. Mary doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything; she just says “They have no wine,” expecting him to see the need to do something. Jesus answers in a stunningly insolent way (“Woman, how does your concern affect me?”), not exactly consistent with his reputation as history’s one perfect man. I sort of sense a joking banter in that, sort of his way of saying “Aw, Ma! Do I haveta?”

      Mary just ignores him, turns to the servers and says, “Do whatever he tells you,” confident that she’s effectively dealt with the matter. I don’t even see her looking back at him as she returns to the party.

      There’s nothing that feels like that — with irony and humor, and real human interaction — in the Garden of Eden. Everything there is Heavily Symbolic, not human-scale at all…

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        These are the kinds of things I think about during Mass. The homily immediately follows the Gospel, and I can’t hear the homily well enough to understand it, so I think about things like this. At least I’m able to read along during the readings, and reflect on them…

        Reply
      2. Jeff Mobley

        There’s no question that the Genesis account has very different literary characteristics than something like the Gospel account you mention, Brad. And let me state again: By no means do I claim to possess a definitive understanding of Genesis, but let me just play Literalist’s advocate here:

        What is the “moral point” that is conveyed in relating that Adam became the father of Seth at age 130, lived another 800 years, and died at 930? That Seth became the father of Enosh at age 105, lived another 807 years, and died at age 912?, and so on… (Gen. 5). I’m not trying to be cute. I am willing to concede that there may in fact be some larger idea being communicated, but it’s not one anyone has ever explained to me.

        Another difference between Genesis and the Gospel account is that the latter was written by someone who was there, or at least by someone who knew someone who was there, and probably within a few decades of when the event took place. The Genesis account, traditionally attributed to Moses, would have been written down after many generations of oral history, some of which would have had to have been directly revealed by God to either Moses or his ancestors.

        All I’m trying to say here is that, while I am not possessed of enough certainty to claim that the Genesis creation story is not allegory, neither do I feel confident saying, “Oh, well of course, it’s obviously allegory”.

        Reply
  5. Doug Ross

    The Bible is a self-help book, not a history or science text. Reject the historical or scientific accuracy if you choose but consider the guidance it offers, especially in the first four books of the New Testament.

    Reply

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