I spent some time today reading about Lucy, the AL 288-1 fossil of the hominin Australopithecus afarensis. She's the Google banner today, if you haven't seen it.
People get in such an uproar over stuff like this that I don't feel safe telling you what I think. I don't fit in a camp, and most everybody who does seems mad at each other.
Cautiously, I'll admit that I've looked into the Hebrew some, but I can't tell if the stuff of the earth that God used to make humans in Genesis 2 was mud, dust, clay or some other kind of land rubbish.
The noun used there is "aphar" -- which I think can mean: ashes, debris, dirt, dry soil, dust, earth, ground, trash heap, plaster, rubbish, loose earth, rubble. I'm not a Hebrew scholar, so take this with a grain of salt, but that's a lot of definitions right there, and it seems to me that there's at least a thread of possibility that even a literal view of Scripture might allow for either a roll-and-pat-pat mud baby brought to life, or a spirit-less animal body of some sort to be lifted from the material rubble of earth and imparted (by God's breath) with transcendent consciousness. Either method could provide us with the spiritual vivacity that exists all around us in no other animal besides the Homo sapiens.
I wish I knew where to ask my questions, because most of the people I've heard having this conversation are more angry and fearful than educated. They are worried about Christians losing power in America, so when they discuss this issue they are reactive.
Some of the atheists I've read do little more than throw around condescending insults, cheap talk about how stupid people are for not not believing. It's difficult to find the humble and the curious, people honest enough to explore with you.
Nearly every line of argument I have heard in regard to the origin of humanity has been passed down from other lines of argument created by people who have a dog in the cultural fight. It's a strange dynamic. I don't know where I fit in it.
A week or two ago I heard someone propose that we shouldn't even entertain the second literal interpretation because it would destroy other arguments Christians use against atheism. I was stunned, because this is a horrible reason to hold on to any idea. Once a rhetorical framework is built that needs something uncertain to be true so that other arguments will stand, integrity slips away. We must love truth because it is true, not because it supports our other beliefs.
Besides, to argue nervous because we are trying to validate God is an insult to him. God is not a tiny flame to be sheltered from the wind by a human hand. He stands to scrutiny, yet He defies scrutiny. He reveals Himself, and He intentionally hides Himself. His Word will never fail, but he won't let us steer Him, either. He is alive, and yet, even the evangelical discussions had on this matter tend to be more Deistic than Christian in tone -- as if in the beginning God created, and then He stopped and stepped back to let us fight about it.
Another problem that I've run into is that very few people having this conversation seem to have been taught how the Enlightenment of the 1700's caused educated people to ask questions of the Bible that weren't as prevalent in the time of Jesus.
The Enlightenment was when man got his roar, and it was generally more humanistic than Christian. Still, we have let the Enlightenment control the content and force of most faith-based discussions of our modern era.
The reason we want Genesis 1-2 to be scientific, the reason we try to divide those verses down into Aristotelian units, is because we are attempting to give our culture more of what it already worships. And that's not all bad. Paul used the deities of Athens to share the gospel. He spoke from the metaphor they gave him. However, he did that more intentionally than most of us do today.
For the most part, we don't have any idea that what we expect to find in Genesis 1-2 has more to do with secularism than faith. And we don't realize that when tensions with Russia caused American schools to elevate math and science above classical studies, we lost critical ways of knowing and thinking that expand the Bible (and really all knowledge) instead of reducing it.
We don't realize that though science is beautiful, it is only one plane in a prism. We are the five blind men feeling the elephant, not knowing our own limitations.
Conservatives tend to think of themselves as traditionalists, but we are terribly modern in our demands. We apply secularist values to Scripture without flinching, using evangelical theological arguments that are pagan Greek more than Hebrew. This tendency began as far back as the Medieval Synthesis, really. Augustine tried to incorporate Plato, and Aquinas tried to incorporate Aristotle to make the gospel feel more legit to the world. (A major simplification there, but work with me.)
And it's fine to translate the gospel to the culture, that's been happening for centuries already, but somewhere I think we got lost and decided to let the culture lead the gospel, which is messed up. Folks, this is why everybody's so nervous.
Anyway, I looked at Lucy's fossils today and saw not a lot of bones to fuel a whole lot of conclusions. And pretty quickly I got tired of sloppy arguments, arguments, arguments about it. People are throwing rhetorical poop like apes in a cage, and it's a distraction from the bigger opportunity we have to learn something that I think matters more.
You might work differently than I do, but it doesn't matter to me what God did to get me here, because He grew babies in my womb, and the gift of life-making God gives to men and women in the right now is every bit as miraculous to me as six days of "let there be everything."
Chesterton talked about a God who maintained a childlike delight in forming individual daisies, and that thought makes my heart cheer, because I remember how He shows up a delivery room in Tennessee to say, "It is good." Living through that was more glory than I could bear.
So origin is not an issue of belief for me so much as an issue of focus. Whether God used clay to make a grand-chimp to make me or whether he started with handmade balls of mud seems peripheral when I start to consider whether or not I'm behaving like nothing more than an animal in the present. See, I do act like a beast sometimes, and it's ugly.
And I don't get uptight about whether the Bible is true in that tight, caustic way that smacks people with a yardstick on the back of a hand, because I know that it's not only true but also alive.
I get around the Bible and yell, "Ow! That thing bites!" because it leaps off the page and grabs me, and yanks me around by the scruff of my neck. I might not be too bright, but I know when something is alive or dead, and the Word kicks like a newborn calf. It slays me and it heals me over and over again.
My real problems with God aren't packed zillions of years back in time, they are here right now, in my doubting heart that wonders if He still hovers over the chaos, or if He still divides light from dark, or if He will still speak life through me? Because it hurts down here, and I get tired and mad about that.
What I'm trying to say is that conservative evangelicals like me don't want to admit this one thing: that it's easy to believe God made the earth in six days. That asks nothing of me at all.
But what's hard for me to believe is that He will take the clay that I still am and breathe Spirit into me yet, that He will grow me into a being that will create and cultivate the earth in His image. That's the rub.
It takes no faith at all for me to believe that Adam and Eve were individuals, a real human couple. Piece of cake. I can accept that with one eye shut.
What I have trouble accepting is a "no" when I'm told to stay away from a forbidden fruit. I still believe lies. I still want to be like God without God. I make the mistakes of Eden all over again.
Even though God still walks in the cool of the day, I ignore him for Facebook, and when He calls my name, I still try to hide when I get caught with my pants down.
Too much of the time we choose the safe arguments. We fight battles we can mess around with without them ever having to impact us day-to-day.
But if we aren't careful, we're going to end up missing the most important part of this altogether.
Here's what's obvious. There's something in a human being that is restless.
There is a part of us that is never at home on this planet. We are not like the animals, and that's plain as day. We are creatures full of longing, and imagination, and creation, and thirst. There is a mighty gap between us and everything else that ever has been.
How did the imago Dei get stuck inside us? What made the divide? And what does it mean? And where is it satisfied?
Those are the real questions. Those are the ones we should be asking, if we can get the courage to ask questions that are likely to end up rattling our bones.