A university dean in Florida, who moonlights as an Episcopal priest and is an admitted lesbian, recently caused controversy after a video surfaced on the web that provided snippets of a lecture she delivered to her Epistemology class, in which she discusses religion and evolution.
“This is a book of myth, and that’s going to offend some of you,” stated professor Lesley Northup of Florida International University’s Honor College in the video. “And I don’t really care.”
“I know that some of you out there are creationists. You really don’t believe in evolution,” another clip reveals. “I personally don’t think you should be allowed to leave this university with that belief.”
Since the release of the video, recorded by a student in Northup’s class, various web outlets have been discussing what Northup meant by her remarks, which they believe to insinuate that students should not be able to graduate as creationists.
However, Northup told Christian News Network that the context of her message was to advise students that she believed they needed to accept evolution as fact and to “keep an open mind” about religion and science. She also stated that the way that she defines “myth” is widely accepted by most professors, but is understood differently by members of the general public.
“By myth we are talking about the stories that people have throughout their lives that give their lives meaning,” she said. “I made the claim that the Bible is myth. [But], I prefaced that by saying that we are not talking about the same kind of myth. … Myth is, in fact, true, but it is not the same kind of truth that we find in science.”
Northrup explained that one of her niches as a professor is on the topic of myth and ritual, and in the class shown in the video, she was explaining the “different ways of finding out what truth is.” She explained that myth often takes the form of metaphor or poetry, and that she believes that the Bible is almost completely metaphorical.
“[T]he Bible was never written as a history book,” Northup said. “That’s not to say the Bible isn’t true. But, it’s not a book of history. It’s not a book of science.”
“A day [in creation] is a metaphor,” she continued. “It would be ridiculous to hold God to a definition of what a day is. … We know the four corners of the earth is a metaphor. … What are we going to do about Joshua making the sun stand still? Joshua couldn’t have made the sun stand still.”
“Now, to say that Jesus died on the cross is not a metaphor,” Northup stated. “On the other hand, some of the details about that we can’t be exactly sure of.”
However, Dr. Jason Lisle, Director of Research at the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas, says he disagrees.
“Genesis is not written as poetry, and the professor seems not to have done her homework on this issue, for if she had, she would recognize that Genesis is written using the historic narrative, which is how the Jews recorded their history,” he told Christian News Network. “We have archaeological discoveries that confirm much of the history of the Bible. When Jericho was excavated, it was a real city, and it was found that it did fall the way that the Bible said.”
“It really is inexcusable for people to think that the Bible is just a collection of metaphors or myths,” he added. “It’s real history, and science confirms that history. … It’s a book recorded by eye witnesses and inspired by God himself, and something that we ought to take very seriously.”
Northup stated that students in her class are urged to find truth in many different ways, and to believe that Christianity and evolution are not incompatible with each other.
“I’m trying to find a way for them to keep the faith and accept things that have been scientifically proven,” Northup said, who is a firm believer in evolutionary theory. “God could have created us in all sorts of ways that [may be] described metaphorically.”
“Historically, we have zero information about how [the earth] got that way without science,” she continued. “We have to go back to [the Bible] with today’s knowledge and see how it is still meaningful to us.”
“For us to think God is somehow encompassed by a book we wrote about God,” she said, “it is tragic.”
Lisle said that there is not a single scientific study that insinuates that evolution is true.
“When we study how animals reproduce, we find that animals reproduce according to their kinds — and that’s exactly what the Bible says in Genesis. When we study DNA and we find the information that’s encoded in DNA, we find that’s consistent with a creator God. It’s not consistent with randomness occurring over periods of time,” he explained. “When we study certain processes in nature, such as the decay of earth’s magnetic field or the recession of earth’s moon, these things are not consistent with millions and billions of years.”
“I would suggest even that the methods of science themselves are based in Biblical creation,” Lisle asserted. “Science is predicated on a Christian worldview, which is why a lot of great minds in the past were scientists who were often consistent Christians. But even those who are not Christians are still relying on Christian principles when they [study] science.”
As for evolution and the Bible being compatible, Lisle says that both cannot be true.
“The book of Genesis is contrary to the teaching of evolution in any number of ways,” he said. “The time scale of course is very different — the Bible teaches six days, whereas the evolutionary belief is millions of years. The Bible teaches that God created certain kinds, and apparently those animals reproduce within those kinds according to Genesis Six — the flood account — because God brought two of every animal on the ark to preserve their kinds, whereas evolution would say there are no separate kinds — everything is biologically related.”
“The Bible would single out human beings as being different from the animals, where in the evolutionary view, humans are animals,” Lisle continued. “That’s why Jesus became a man and paid our penalty on the cross: Because He’s our relative, He could do that. [And] that’s the reason that animals can’t. The blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin, the Bible says.”
Lisle also stated that he does not believe — as many do — in theistic evolution.
“Evolution guided by God is really the worst of all possibilities, because it [portrays] a very weak God that can’t get it right to begin with,” he outlined. “And so, it takes millions and billions of years of slow tinkering. … It’s a merciless process of killing and disease and suffering. That’s not the God of the Bible.”
“If you want to believe in evolution,” Lisle stated, “don’t blame God for it.”
Northrup said that she believes that people need to keep an open mind and not assert that their way is the only way, including in the realm of religious studies. She explained that she believes that it is “the height of arrogance” to say otherwise.
“Do I believe that other people’s religions are valid to finding ways to the other side — whether we call that Nirvana or Heaven? Sure, of course,” she said. “Who are we to limit what God can do? God is the only being who can decide how a human being can reach God. … If Christians said that only Christians can reach God, then that’s very narrow.”
Lisle remarked that Christians are supposed to be narrow-minded — in a Biblical way.
“Truth is always narrow,” he said. “Consider mathematical truths. Two plus two equals four. It doesn’t equal five, or seven or ten. In fact, there are an infinite number of wrong answers. There is only one right answer. And that’s always the case with truth.”
“God Himself has said that Jesus is the only way. Jesus said, ‘No man comes to the Father but by Me,'” Lisle continued. “And that is a very narrow claim, but it’s a claim that’s made by God himself. So, it seems to me that the height of arrogance would be to tell God, ‘No, You’re wrong. I’m smarter than You. Here’s how I can get to You.'”
Northup said that most theological professors hold to similar views, and that her teachings are not new or extraordinary.
“What I am saying may offend some people, but it is the state of the field at this time, and I am not alone in this,” she explained. “This is a fairly standard Christian theological teaching. … It’s a problem for those Christian denominations that can’t adjust and they hear their preachers denying things that are obvious.”
“If we’re going to take God at His Word, we have to believe that Jesus is the only way,” Lisle concluded. “When people say there are many different truths, it really isn’t truths — it’s beliefs. And there are many different beliefs to be sure, but most of them are wrong.”