Back of the Envelope (3) – Batteries (Tesla Powerwall) to Store Renewables

Tesla_Powerwall

Tesla Powerwall (Image by Tesla Motors CC-I 4.0)

 

Summary: 375 MW of electricity is the amount currently provided by fossil fuel burning power plants for a population of about 320,000. To make this power with renewable sources (namely, solar PV) 2 GW must be generated: 375 MW for daytime use and 1.625 GW generated and stored for nighttime use. One option for storage is batteries. This amount of power can be produced by 1.5 million Tesla Powerwall (6.4 kWh) batteries. These could be distributed in residences and businesses with one Powerwall servicing roughly 460 square feet of building footprint. Alternatively, they could be housed in a few large warehouses following a more centralized utility model.

In the first Back of the Envelope we found that we need a 2 GW solar farm to replace the fossil fuel produced electricity currently used by a city such as Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Estes Park, Colorado with a population of 320,000. 375 MW of that 2 GW will be used during the day and the rest, 1.625 GW, must be stored to be used at night. In the second Back of the Envelope we examined pumped hydro as the storage solution. While pumped hydro is the most prevalent form of storage today (99%), batteries are probably the most talked about solution to the storage problem. In this Back of the Envelope we will look at the solution offered by Tesla Motors with its Powerwall to see what level of implementation would be required to store the extra power produced by the 2 GW solar farm so we can make it through the night.

For this calculation we will use the home Powerwall, which is expected to cost $3000, can store up 6.4 kWh of electricity, and has dimensions of 33.9 inches x 51.2 inches x 7.1 inches (12,300 in3 or 0.2 m3). We need to store 1.625 GW x 6 hours or 9.75 GWh of electricity. That’s 9.75 million kWh. Divide that by the 6.4 kWh storage capacity of the Powerwall and you get 1.5 million Powerwall batteries taking up a volume of about 0.3 million m3 and costing $4.5 billion. If we can put them 6 high on a wall (about 8 m) in a warehouse that will require 37,500 m2 (400,000 square feet) of space. If we allowed 10x that space for access and cooling that would take up 375,000 m2 (4,000,000 square feet). That’s the size of about 20 large Walmart Supercenter buildings—not too bad for a utility scale centralized rollout. For such an installation we would probably use Tesla’s Powerpack or utility scale devices which have more capacity, but for this BOTE we will stick with the Powerwall batteries.

It is more likely that many or even most of these Powerwall devices will be distributed throughout town. The population density of Fort Collins is about 1000 people per km2; dividing 320,000 people by 1000 people per km2 gets us to  320 kmof area in Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, and Estes Park. Let’s assume that 20% of this is buildings (residences, businesses, schools, churches, etc.)—64 km2  (700 million square feet) of building footprint. If we need 1.5 million Powerwall batteries, that’s a Powerwall battery for every 460 square feet of building footprint.

  • An apartment with 1000 square feet needs one 1 or 2
  • An average size house of 2000 square feet needs 4 or 5
  • A church building with a 6000 square foot footprint needs 13
  • An office building with a 15,000 square foot footprint needs needs 30
  • A school building with a 140,000 square foot footprint needs 350

In its first year of production (2015-2016) Tesla plans to make around 100,000. 1.5 million are needed for the proposed 100% renewable solution. That’s 15 years worth just for Fort Collins. Obviously, that will need to scale up with an increased production rate and additional factories to make the devices. Because the “sample” city is only 1/1000 of the US population we will need 1.5 billion for the entire United States.

Lithium

Lithium floating on oil (Image by W. Oelen CC-BY-SA 3.0)

An estimate of the amount of lithium required is that 300 g Li metal is needed per 1 kWh of battery capacity. (Theoretical electrochemical considerations give a value of about 75 g Li per kWh; here we have multiplied by 4 to give a more realistic “real world” value.) Thus the 6.4 kWh Powerwall requires about 2 kg Li. For the 1.5 million needed in Fort Collins that’s 3.0 million kg of Li or 3,000 metric tonnes (3 million metric tonnes for the whole country). Global annual production of lithium is around 37,000 metric tonnes of lithium. Currently, only about 30% of the produced lithium is used for batteries (portable tools, laptops, cell phones, and the nascent electric vehicle (EV) market). A full, nation-wide rollout of this new market for batteries involves a 80x increase in the production of lithium. Of course, the EV market is also rapidly growing. A transition to EV of the over 250 million passenger vehicles in the US today, each one using 10x as much lithium as a Powerwall battery, would put significant pressure not only on lithium production but also on global reserves of lithium. The USGS estimates that there are 13 million metric tonnes of known reserves (i.e. currently economically obtainable) and only 39 million metric tonnes of lithium existing on the planet. For more information about lithium supply limits see this article from Green Tech Media. Perhaps a more serious resource limitation is the rare earth metals used in the DC to AC inverters. We’ll save that discussion for another BOTE.

The solar farm discussed in the first BOTE is already going to cost $2.5 billion with probably a 20 year lifetime. 1.5 million Powerwall batteries will cost another $4.5 billion. However, these only have a 10 year lifetime. Let’s say $5.75 billion for 2 GW of electricity for 10 years:

2 GW x 6 hr/day x 365 days/year x 10 years = 43,800 GWh = 43.8 billion kWh

The price of this electricity (not counting operation and maintenance) is $5.75 billion/43.8 billion kWh = $0.13/kWh–a bit pricey, but not far off from today’s prices. No doubt the price of batteries will go down as production scales go up, as technology improves, and with business and utility scale models incorporated into the implementation.

The most serious limitation at this point in time seems to be the rate of lithium production and the rate of battery production.

Check out Energy: What the World Needs Now by Terry M. Gray and Anthony K. Rappé.

Back of the Envelope (2) – Pumped Hydro to Store Renewables

Summary: 375 MW of electricity is the amount currently provided by fossil fuel burning power plants for a population of about 320,000. To make this power with renewable sources (namely, solar PV) 2 GW must be generated: 375 MW for daytime use and 1.625 GW generated and stored for nighttime use. One option for storage is pumped hydroelectric power. This amount of power can be produced hydroelectrically by draining a reservoir (such as Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, Colorado) of 120 million m3 of water at night and pumping it back during the daytime. This would involve creating a lake downstream from the reservoir 6 m (20 ft) deep and 6 km (3-4 mi) on each side. Alternatively, 377 pairs of large tanks (500 ft in diameter 100 ft tall) slightly larger than the oil storage tanks located in Cushing, Oklahoma, one above ground and one below ground, could be filled and drained each day. Each tank takes up about 5 acres or just a bit more than 2 city blocks.

In the first Back of the Envelope we found that we need a 2 GW solar farm to replace the fossil fuel produced electricity currently used by a city such as Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Estes Park, Colorado with a population of 320,000. 375 MW of that 2 GW will be used during the day and the rest, 1.625 GW must be stored to be used at night.  The only form of energy storage reported by the Energy Information Administration is pumped hydroelectric power. “Pumped hydro” is the only large-scale energy storage in use today–99% of all storage is pumped hydro. Water is pumped into a reservoir using excess energy production and then released later to generate electricity as in a hydroelectric power plant. Some pumped hydro facilities were developed in concert with nuclear power facilities. When power production exceeded demand, the excess was used to pump water into a reservoir rather than throttle the  amount of electricity produced by the nuclear power plant. This allows the nuclear power plant to operate an optimal level. This Back of the Envelope post will explore what would be required to provide overnight storage of daytime generated electricity using pumped hydro.

The important physics/engineering equation is that which calculates the power available in a reservoir of water. The equation is

Power (Watts) =
Efficiency x density of water (kg/m3) x flow rate (m3/s) x force of gravity (m/s2) x height (m)

Horsetooth Reservoir

Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, Colorado (Photo from the US Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation)

Efficiency is the efficiency of conversion of hydropower to electrical power. We’ll assume 80%. The density of water is 1000 kg/m3. The force of gravity is 9.81 m/s2; we’ll call it 10 m/s2. The height will depend on our exact system. We’ll explore a couple of options.

Option 1: Horsetooth Reservoir

Horsetooh Reservoir is less than a mile away from the western edge of Fort Collins. There are four earthen dams that make up the reservoir. The reservoir holds 0.2 km3 (200 million m3, 157,000 acre-ft) of water. At the north end is a dam that is 155 feet high. How much electricity could we generate if we let the water out? In order to pump it back we have to store the water downstream somewhere. We’ll talk about that later. Let’s estimate the water level behind the dam to be 50 meters higher than in front of the dam. However, as we’ll see we will be changing that height significantly as the water is released even in a large reservoir like Horsetooth. (Technically, we should integrate as the water is released, but as a first approximation we’ll do the calculation using a static height of 1/2 of the initial height.) Let’s say that our actual head height is 25 meters. Now we can plug numbers into our equation. We need 375 MW of power.

375 x 106 W = 0.8 x 1000 kg/m3 x flow rate (m3/s) x 10 m/s2 x 25 m

Solving for flow rate gives us 1875 m3/s. We need to do this for 18 hours. 18 hours is 64,800 seconds.

Total volume needed is 1875 m3/s x 64,800 s = 121 million m3.

This is 60% of Horsetooth Reservoir drained out every night and pumped back in during the day. A flow rate of 1875 m3/s is comparable to the flow rate out of other large scale hydroelectric plants. Three 6-7 m (20 feet) diameter pipes could do the trick. Pumping the released water back during the daytime needs to occur 3x faster. The giant pumps that are being installed in New Orleans since Katrina can pump at near 625 m3/s. We would need nine of these monsters each costing $0.5 billion to pump all the water back each day.

Another problem is where to put the water. Without worrying for now about land use issues, let’s make a shallow lake downstream from the main dam. If it is 6 meters (20 ft) deep, we need a 33 million m2 area (33 km2,  82,000 acres). That’s a shallow lake 6 km or 3-4 miles on a side. Interestingly, that’s the size of the solar farm needed. Perhaps we can float the solar panels on the lake.

Option 2: Storage Tank Farm

Cushing, Oklahoma oil tank

An Enbridge oil tank at Cushing, Oklahoma (Photo by roy.luck CC-BY-SA 2.0)

The previous solution requires a specific geographical setting that may only be appropriate for certain locations, and since Horsetooth Reservoir is also a recreational facility, we may not want to drain it every night. Is there a way to make this work anywhere with artificial storage tanks? The oil storage facility in Cushing, Oklahoma comes to mind. What if we built large water storage tanks, one above ground and one below ground? What would it take to store enough power to get through the night? The largest of these tanks run about 400 feet in diameter and 70 feet tall. Let’s say we can stretch the limits a bit and get to 500 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall. That would be 150 meters in diameter and 30 meters tall. Each tank holds 530,000 m3 of water. The average height between the levels of water is now only 15 meters (rather than the 25 meters we had for Horsetooth Reservoir). Since we have only 60% of the head, we need 1.67x as much water. Using the number from the previous calculation (121 million m3) this gives us 200 million m3 of water.

Cushing, Oklahoma Oil Tank Farms

A satellite image of the Cushing, Oklahoma oil storage tank farms. The image is about 2 miles horizontal and 1.5 miles vertical.

At 530,000 m3 per pair of tanks, that means 377 pairs of tanks. Each tank takes up a 150 m x 150 m square (about 5 acres or 4 football fields or just over 2 city blocks). This ends up being a 10 km x 10 km (6 mi x 6 mi) water storage tank farm. That area is comparable to the area of Horsetooth Reservoir and the downstream lake that was created.

Feasible?

Either project is grandiose. And keep in mind that we have to do this times 1000 for the US alone. However, such projects are not necessarily engineering impossibilities. Geography might help in many instances. Coastal regions or those near the Great Lakes might be able to use the ocean or lake as the lower level storage tank. The bottom line is that this would be a massive enterprise. On the surface it looks doable, but the scale of the project makes it seem like other options might be better. These will be discussed in future BOTE blog posts.

Check out Energy: What the World Needs Now by Terry M. Gray and Anthony K. Rappé.

Back of the Envelope (1) – How Much Solar Do We Need?

Summary: 375 MW of electricity, an amount currently provided by fossil fuel burning power plants for a population of about 320,000, requires a 2 GW solar farm composed of 5 million 200 W/msolar panels taking up 10 km2 (4 mi2) or 2500 acres of land (just under 1/10 the area of a city of 150,000 such as Fort Collins, Colorado). This will cost nearly $2.5 billion to construct and, if amortized over 20 years, will add $0.03 per kWh to the operational cost of electricity. This assumes some storage technology is available and takes into account intermittency and losses from storage.

Back of the Envelope is a blog series exploring issues related to transitioning from fossil fuel based electricity to renewable electricity production. There are two big issues: first, the scale, i.e. how many  renewable energy sources are needed to replace the fossil fuel sources currently in use; second, because of intermittency issues, i.e. that the sun doesn’t shine at night or that the wind doesn’t blow all the time, extra energy needs to be produced during production times and storage needs to be developed.

I am from Fort Collins, Colorado. Fort Collins gets its electricity from the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA), a public power utility that services Loveland, Longmont, and Estes Park in addition to Fort Collins. The total population served is nearly 320,000. This is a nice number because it represents approximately 1/1000 of the US population. Roughly speaking, we need to multiply whatever we find here by 1000 to cover the whole United States.

PRPA’s sources include coal (about 75%), hydropower (about 20%), wind (about 5%), and some other sources including natural gas for summer peak demand. The daily load profile is typical with a peak load around 7pm and a low around 3am. The average daily load for January 2016 is around 400 MW. Let’s call it 500 MW to account for summer load and in the spirit of a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Some of PRPA’s energy (25%) already comes from renewable sources. Nationwide the number is between 10% and 15%, but is nearly 35% if you include nuclear. For this calculation I will assume that we need 75% of 500 MW, 375 MW, to replace the fossil fuel sources. I will also do the calculation using solar PV only. Obviously, a real solution will be a combination of solar PV, solar thermal (CSP), and wind. But the land use/resource requirements are similar among the three, so we can get our back-of-the-envelope result by just using solar PV.

Here’s where we’re heading. We need to meet the daytime load. We will assume that daytime is 6 hours per day (a 25% capacity factor). (Perhaps with a combination of wind and solar we could get up to 8 hours per day (closer to a 35% capacity factor).) We will need to produce enough energy while the sun is shining brightly to cover the 18 hours when it’s not. This will be produced during the day and stored somehow. Since storage will not be 100% efficient, we will need to produce additional energy to account for a round trip efficiency, which we assume to be 75%.

Daytime Load

Let’s be generous with our solar panel efficiency and say we can have 200 W/m2 solar panels. That would be a 400 W 1 m x 2 m panel (2 m2 panels).

375 MW x 1,000,000 W/MW x 1 solar panel/400 W = 937,500 panels. Let’s just call it 1,000,000. A million solar panels takes up 2 million m2 of space. A km2 is 1,000,000 m2 so we’re talking 2 km2 (0.77 mi2). That’s a square of land 1.4 km (0.9 mi) on a side. If you think in acres, that’s about 500 acres.

Nighttime Load

We have to multiply everything times 3 to cover when the sun is not shining. So that’s 3 million more solar panels taking up 6 km2 (2.3 mi2) or 1500 acres.

Storage Efficiency Issues

Since the nighttime load has to be stored we will have to increase our numbers to accommodate inefficiencies in round trip storage. Since our efficiency is assumed to be 75% we can divide our nighttime load numbers by 0.75 to get the amount that needs to be stored:  4 million solar panels taking up 8 km2 (3 mi2) or 2000 acres.

Totals

Adding in the daytime load now gives a total of 5 million solar panels and 10 km2 (4 mi2) or 2500 acres. That’s a 2 GW solar farm.

The area of the city of Fort Collins is 56 mi2 so we’re talking about covering an area equivalent to 7% of the entire city with solar panels. These solar panels cost about $200 per panel for a home installation. Since we’re buying 5 million of them, let’s say we can get half off for a total cost of $500,000,000. If we estimate $2/W for installation that’s an additional $2 billion for a total of $2.5 billion.

Assuming our 2 GW solar farm produces electricity for 6 hours a day, 365 days a year for 20 years, we will produce 2 GW x 1,000,000 kW/GW x 6 hours/day x 365 days/year x 20 years = 87.6 billion kWh. That would be $0.03/kWh to cover the initial building of the solar farm. While that’s a lot of money up front, over the long run it’s a decent construction cost per kWh of electricity produced.

The largest solar PV plants in the US today are around 500 MW (Solar Star, Topaz, Desert Sunlight, Copper Mountain) each costing in the $2-$3 billion range. Prices of solar installations continue to come down, so it’s conceivable that we could get a 4x larger plant for nearly the same price.

The general result is that if we switch from fossil fuel sources to intermittent sources with storage that we need to a solar or wind facility that produces 5x the amount of electricity that we get from the fossil fuel plant. In order to make this work we need to store that electricity somehow, not a trivial problem today. We’ll discuss that in future Back of the Envelope posts. And, remember, we need 1000 of these nationwide.

Check out Energy: What the World Needs Now by Terry M. Gray and Anthony K. Rappé.

Age of the Earth

age of the earth icon

This is the fifth of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we are using the topic of the Age of the Earth.

Using radiometric dating modern science has concluded that the earth is 4.54 billion years old. Geologists since the 18th and 19th centuries began to understand that the earth has a vast age (measured in millions and billions of years rather than thousands of years). The 17th century bishop, James Ussher, using dates of historically known events and assuming literal and gapless Biblical genealogies and an ordinary (six, twenty-four hour day) Creation week in Genesis 1, concluded that God created the world around six thousand years ago. Today’s young-earth creationists (YEC) continue to follow Ussher’s basic interpretative procedure. Others (old earth creationists, theistic evolutionists/evolutionary creationists, some Old Testament scholars) believe that there are approaches to understanding Genesis 1 in particular that do not require a conclusion that is in conflict with modern science. (See the “Reading Genesis” section for various perspectives.)

Most ASA members accept the consensus scientific view on the age of the earth. Already in 1949 based on radiometric dating techniques, ASA member Laurence Kulp said, “One of the most probable facts in geology, I believe, is that the earth is close to two billion years old…” Kulp’s early paper supporting the old earth position and criticizing YEC is featured in the collection below. A paper written for the ASA web site, “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective” by physicist Roger Wiens has proved to be one of the most popular in terms of electronic downloads. Many of the resources here simply review the scientific claims for an old earth and then seek to understand that great age in light of what the Bible says. YEC have brought forward critiques of the various dating methods and conclusions drawn from them. Because ASA members have tended to accept the consensus view, the articles here summarize and engage the YEC criticisms. ASA members may disagree with the YEC position but acknowledge those who hold that view as fellow believers and worthy of respectful engagement. Randy Isaac’s review of the YEC RATE project and subsequent dialog with its authors illustrates this respectful engagement.

Many Christians today, especially those in conservative, evangelical churches, remain persuaded of the YEC viewpoint. Yet there are evangelical traditions and theologians who have long accepted old earth arguments. ASA members throughout its history have sought to convince the former group that the scientific arguments for an old earth are quite sound, rooted in the same science that has given us progress in medicine and technology. Largely evangelical themselves, these ASA members have also attempted to formulate ways of approaching this question that take seriously the Bible and evangelical Christian theology.

The last group of papers deals with the idea of apparent age. Here, the earth/universe looks old, i.e. old age is the conclusion you would draw from the scientific data. Even Isaac, in his discussion of the RATE project, seems to allow this view as one with scientific integrity because it admits to the consensus view. Many reject the view because it undermines the idea that we can draw reliable conclusions from our observations or even trust God’s revelation to us in creation. Nonetheless, apparent age is a method of reconciling the scientific data with the perceived need for a young earth.

Anyone interested in tackling the scientific arguments for the vast age of the earth or the related theological questions is encouraged to study these papers and talks.

Questions

1. What have you been taught about the age of the earth in your family, church, or school?

2. Which scientific arguments for an old earth do you know?

 

Reading Genesis

reading genesis icon

This is the fourth of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we are using the topic of Reading Genesis.

For some the Bible-Science conflict starts with the opening chapter of Genesis. If one assumes that the account is straight-forward narrative depicting a strict chronological sequence then you end up with a fully formed Creation that was made in the space of six (twenty-four hour) days. If you tie such a view to a historical dating of the David/Solomonic kingdom around 1000 BC and an arithmetic (rather than symbolic) approach to the genealogies of the Bible, you end up with a recent Creation, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This is how many evangelicals read Genesis today and is the origin of such young-earth creationist (YEC) organizations as the Institute for Creation Research, the Creation Research Society, Answers in Genesis, etc. In this view the Bible teaches a recent Creation. All other approaches to knowledge (science, history, etc.) must conform to this Biblical teaching.

This YEC viewpoint seems at odds with the conclusions of modern science. Modern cosmology teaches that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, that the earth is 4.54 billion years old, that life originated on earth 3.85 billion years ago, that modern plants and animals developed through an evolutionary process around 500 million years ago, that dinosaurs lived on the earth 230 million to 70 million years ago, that modern humans have been around for 200,000 years, and that worldwide migrations of humans occurred 60,000 to 15,000 years ago. This long history embodies cosmological, geological, and biological processes that occurred over time-scales in the thousands, millions, and billions of years, not six, twenty-four hour days.

There are others who embrace the scientific account and then conclude that the Bible and the religions that use the Bible as their authoritative text are hopelessly wrong. For them Biblical faith is akin to believing in fairies and leprechauns. While coming from totally opposite perspectives YEC and atheistic evolutionists have a fundamental agreement: Biblical faith and modern science are incompatible. Yet, there are some, represented by the American Scientific Affiliation and the BioLogos Foundation, the developers and hosts of the perspectives presented here, who disagree. By and large those who disagree do not reject the conclusions of modern science. Thus, the chronology of modern science stated above is accepted as well as the idea that naturally occurring processes can explain the historical development of the cosmos from Big Bang to present. Accepting the conclusions of modern science can be done from Christian theistic framework. God remains the Creator, Sustainer, Governor, and Provider of the universe.

Those who adopt this middle path claim that it is possible to understand the Bible in a way that does not result in a conflict with modern science. Many wonder whether this is being faithful to scripture. This question is addressed in all of the papers and presentations listed below. While it is certainly true that those who accept the authority of the Bible should not always adjust their interpretation of scripture to fit the results of the latest science, it must always be remembered that our traditional interpretations may be wrong. If a conflict with science arises, there is nothing wrong with using that occasion to revisit our traditional interpretation of scripture to see if we have it right. Most everyone would admit that if the traditional interpretation is not the correct interpretation then we should change our view, and that changing our view is being more faithful to scripture.

Listed below are key papers from the ASA journal (JASA, PSCF) or presentations given at ASA meetings or other works by individuals associated with the ASA that address the proper way of reading Genesis 1. Not all of the authors agree with each other. But there is somewhat a common theme that Genesis 1 must be understood in the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context and that reading it in that context may mean that our 21st century questions may not be answered.

Questions

1. How were you brought up to understand Genesis 1? What did you learn at home, in Sunday School, in church, at school, in college? Is challenging the “traditional” reading of Genesis 1 troubling to you?

2. How does your current Christian community–your church, your Christian school, your Christian college–deal with these issues?

3. How well do you understand modern science and its claims about the origin of the universe, the earth, life on earth, and humanity?

4. Have you ever changed your understanding of scripture based on extra-Biblical information (archaeology, understanding Biblical customs, etc.)? Why did you change your view?

5. How might it be possible to reject Genesis as straight-forward narrative depicting a strict chronological sequence and not reject it being revelation from God and having some kind of authority?

 

Adam and Eve and Human Origins

This is the third of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we are using the topic of Adam and Eve and Human Origins.

The Adam and Eve account of human origins in Genesis 2 and 3 has been challenged by scientific theories since the days of Darwin. The Genesis account portrays Adam as being formed by God from inanimate earth and then animated to become a living creature via the divine inbreathing. Eve was created later from the side of Adam as he was found to be alone and in need of a suitable helper. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden in communion with God, created in His image. They succumbed to the temptation of the serpent and disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a consequence they were separated from God, cursed, and doomed to die. Adam is seen as the first human being with several Biblical genealogies originating with him. All human beings appear to be descended from Adam and Eve. The Genesis account is set in the Neolithic period at the beginnings of modern human civilization between 10,000 and 5,000 BC. Romans 5:12-20 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49 not only see Adam as the first man, but as one who uniquely represents the whole human race and through whom human sin and death comes into the world.

Modern science sees human beings as having evolved from primate and hominid ancestors. Anatomically modern humans have been around for 150,000-200,000 years and all currently living human beings are thought to have descended from an evolving population of about 5,000-10,000 individuals living in Africa. The genetic arguments for this perspective can be explored in some of the ASA resources on this topic. (See the papers and presentations of Francis Collins or Dennis Venema, for example). While all other human or hominid species have gone extinct, there is some genetic evidence that modern humans interbred with Neanderthal and Denisovian hominids. While there is recognition of human uniqueness compared to other animals and extant primates, this is attributed to various biological features such as bipedalism, opposing thumbs, and brain capacity. There is also a recognition of a transition about 10,000 BC with the rise of agriculture, metallurgy, and other uniquely human cultural expressions as human beings transitioned from a hunter-gatherer mode of existence to one of localized farming that ultimately gave rise to towns and cities. Human psychology and behavior seem to have a continuity with primate and other animal behavior in both its altruistic components and in less socially desirable behaviors. In other words, deviant behavior (sin) is not the consequence of a Fall from some state of innocence, but is part of the evolutionary process. Death was not brought into the world by one man’s sin, but has been part of the process from the beginning.

The two extreme positions for relating these two accounts are the rejection of one or the other. There are some who see the Genesis account of human beginnings as being the way ancient Near Eastern people in the tradition of the Abrahamic religions saw their beginnings. It is from a distant culture both in time and space. It is what they believed, but it is simply not true. And there is no reason for us to think it is true. The scientific account is true inasmuch as we can say that about scientific accounts. New data or perhaps new ideas about old data will result in our continually revising the scientific account. But, based on our understanding today, this is the way it happened. We will call this view “atheistic naturalism”. (NOTE: The “atheistic” part of this extreme is its rejection of any truth claims of the Biblical text. There are many Christians willing to accept the scientific claims described here.)

Alternatively, we could reject the modern scientific story as being completely wrong, rooted in an enterprise dedicated to denying God. The Bible is true. The people, places, times, events are real. We will call this view “Biblical fundamentalism”.

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) has fostered discussion of this topic over its 70 year history. One of the features of the ASA discussion is its rejection of the two extremes. The ASA accepts the Bible as inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative and thus disagrees with the “atheistic naturalist” who simply disregards the Biblical teaching. The ASA also believes that scientific investigation (and its results) are legitimate because God created and preserves the universe in such a way that it has contingent order and intelligibility. The ASA discussion is among people who take both the Bible and science seriously. Thus, the outright rejection of one or the other view is not really an option.

The Adam and Eve and Human Origins resource is a compilation of articles and audio/video presentations discussing the question of human origins from many different perspectives. For each article/author there is an introductory comment and some tips for reading/listening/watching for each one. The ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue. It is committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth. Consequently, you will find a range of views, some which disagree strongly with the other. ASA simply hopes to help Christians work through these difficult questions.

Big questions are in this discussion. What does it mean to say that the Bible is inspired, authoritative, and trustworthy? What is the correct way to read/interpret the Bible? Does the Bible teach science? What is sin and how did it enter the world? What is the image of God? Are Adam and Eve historical figures? Are there theological truths in Genesis that can be separated from actual historical events?

The Adam and Eve and Human Origins resource contains contributions by ASA members to annual meetings, articles in the ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF), books and blog posts written by ASA members that address the question. Nearly everyone acknowledges the basic scientific claim that human beings, at least in their biological form, descended from non-human ancestors or at least look as if they descended from non-human ancestors 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. That is in keeping with the ASA spirit of taking the science seriously. The differences and most of discussion concerns what it means to take the Biblical account seriously and how to relate traditional theological views such as the image of God, state of innocence, the Fall into sin, original sin, unity of the human race, etc. to the scientific viewpoint. Some argue that the Genesis account is just ancient Near Eastern “science” and that God accommodated his revelation to that cultural context. In that view it becomes important to distinguish the historical and scientific details of the account (which may be wrong) from the theological truths that they represent. Others seek to preserve a degree of historicity and speculate how the event character of the Genesis account might fit into the scientific story. Both viewpoints argue that they are taking the Bible seriously. The theological questions about God’s image, the role of Adam and Eve in original sin, the effect of Adam and Eve’s sin on the rest of humanity, etc. are handled in a variety of ways in either perspective. The history of theology tells us that there are differences of opinion on these theological questions quite independent of any questions of human evolution. In certain theological traditions, for example, the covenant theology as articulated in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith from the 17th century, there is a commitment to certain answers on these theological questions.

Questions

1. What is your reaction to this summary? Are you familiar with the Biblical story? Are you familiar with the modern scientific story? Was there anything new to you in either of them?

2. Our examination of this topic will continue, and we will examine different ways of thinking about the two accounts. Begin to make a list of ways to relate these two accounts.

3. What is your reaction to the two extremes as presented? Do you know of people or organizations represented by such extreme views? What critique of each can you offer?

4. Do you agree or disagree with perspective of the ASA? Why is it important to take both the Bible and science seriously?

 

Getting Started in the Evolution/Creation Conversation

Getting Started

This is the second of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). These blog posts are based on the introductory essays that accompany each of the topics. Today we use the Getting Started in the Discussion topic.

The science/faith or evolution/creation discussion is huge. Where do you start? What follows are contributions by members of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) to annual meetings, articles in the ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (PSCF), and other resources available on the ASA web site. We have pulled together this set of resources as an introduction covering the areas of reading Genesis, the age of the earth, evidences for evolution, theistic evolution (or evolutionary creation), the first humans (Adam and Eve), and intelligent design.

The ASA is a network of Christians in the sciences and has fostered discussion of faith and science issues over its 70 year history. The ASA accepts the Bible as inspired, trustworthy, and authoritative and thus disagrees with the “atheistic naturalist” who simply disregards the Biblical teaching. The ASA also believes that scientific investigation (and its results) are legitimate because God created and preserves the universe in such a way that it has contingent order and intelligibility. In other words the ASA discussion is among people who take both the Bible and science seriously.

The ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue. We are committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth. Consequently, you will find a range of views, some which disagree strongly with the other.

For the newcomer to the discussion we have arranged the resources in a logical order. In a few cases, there is a audio or video presentation followed by a more detailed written version by the same author With each resource there is a brief introduction of the author/presenter and there are questions for reflection or discussion. Keep a journal of your reflections based on those question and others that may come to mind. Many additional resources from ASA are available If you wish to dig deeper into a particular topic.

The first resource on the list is Richard H. Bube’s 1970’s paper entitled “We Believe in Creation.” Richard H. Bube is emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. He was editor of JASA from 1969-1983 and a frequent contributor to the journal. Here is the abstract:

It should be well known to readers of the Journal ASA that the ASA does not take an official position on controversial questions. Creation is not a controversial question. We believe in Creation. We praise the Lord for that faith. But let us avoid either posing creation and evolution as intrinsically antithetical alternatives, the acceptance of one demanding the rejection of the other, or presenting creation as a scientific mechanism alternative to evolution, as though good science must ultimately lead to the verification of fiat creation and a falsification of evolution.

Here are the study/discussion questions associated with this introduction and with the “We Believe in Creation” article.

Questions

1. What are your initial thoughts about the relationship between faith and science?

2. Bube asserts that creation is not a controversial subject. What does he mean by that and how can he say that in light of all the controversy?

3. How does he distinguish between fiat creation and Creation?

4. What is meant by “descriptions of the same phenomena on different levels of reality?”

5. What is “evolutionary philosophy” or “evolutionary religion?” Why is it important to distinguish between “evolutionary philosophy” and “evolutionary biology?

 

Resources on Science and Christian Faith


This is the first of a series of posts introducing Resources on Science and Christian Faith from the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA). Future posts will feature the introductory essays associated with the various topics.

ASA began in 1941 as “a group of Christian scientific men devoting themselves to the task of reviewing, preparing, and distributing information on the authenticity, historicity, and scientific aspects of the Holy Scriptures in order that the faith of many in the Lord Jesus Christ may be firmly established.” [1] Today, with a similar but somewhat broader purpose, ASA seeks “to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science and to make known the results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the Christian community and by the scientific community.” [2] ASA has a 74 year history of dialogue and discussion. Reflection on ASA’s early history can be found in the 50th anniversary (1991) issue of its journal, Perspectives on Science and Faith [3-6].

Anyone interested in learning more about faith/science issues would profit from tapping into the rich set of resources available through the ASA. The most valuable of these resources is the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (JASA), now called Perspectives on Science and Faith (PSCF). The ASA also sponsors annual meetings where members and key figures in the faith/science scholarly community present their latest thinking. In addition, ASA members meet in local sections around the country. In recent years these meetings have been audio and/or video recorded and made available on the Internet. There are also monographs, newsletters, and other publications such as the SEARCH series of articles on contemporary Christian scientists and the eZine, God and Nature. Seeing how ASA members have worked through these issues and settled on the various options could be instructive for those currently exploring these questions.

ASA desires to foster civil dialogue among Christians with differing perspectives. The most controversial debates in ASA’s history have been on the topic of evolutionary creation. As one of the oldest and largest groups of Christians in science worldwide, the annals of ASA document the story of believers grappling with the growing scientific database on evolution. While the ASA throughout its history has remained officially neutral on controversial topics where there is honest disagreement, including evolution/creation, its membership as a whole has moved toward acceptance of the prevailing scientific views, which is reflected in its publications and meetings. Papers, videos, and audio recordings document how this large body of Christians from differing perspectives has moved from hesitation about evolutionary science to widespread acceptance of evolution as God’s process in the natural world.

Although the earliest ASA scientists appeared to find data important to modern science in the Bible (e.g. age of the earth/universe, biological kinds) the general trajectory has been to recognize that the Bible’s primary purpose is redemptive-historical and not scientific and that it was written in the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East where our modern scientific questions were not necessarily their questions. In other words the Bible is not a scientific textbook. Answers to most of our scientific questions will not be found in the Bible. This is not to say that ASA members do not take the Bible seriously however. ASA members believe that the Bible continues to inform the Christian worldview and the theology of Creation and God’s interaction with the universe. These are both relevant to the scientific endeavor.

A second trajectory is that ASA members have tended to become more accepting of the well-established results of mainstream science. Early ASA scientists tended to be somewhat suspicious of the claims of mainstream science, especially in the area of origins. In part, this is a simple corollary of the first trajectory. Many in the ASA no longer see the Bible as teaching ideas that are contrary to science proper. Thus, while there is seldom unanimity on any scientific issue, the majority of ASA members hold to an old earth/universe, biological evolution, and even human evolution. There is also serious engagement of the multiverse, evolutionary psychology, and the latest ideas of neurobiology. Recognizing the distinction between science as a description of the way God governs the universe and scientism (also known as scientific/atheistic naturalism or scientific materialism), which misuses science to make scientific explanations ultimate explanations, has allowed ASA members to embrace scientific claims without fear of abandoning a belief in God’s role in creation.

ASA received a grant from the BioLogos Foundation as part of the Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF) project. It was entitled “Seeing Evolutionary Creation as a Viable Evangelical Perspective: Seventy Years of ASA Resources.” ASA is seeking to make its resources more broadly available to the general public. Audio/visual materials from recent ASA annual meetings are on the Internet and have now been added to an already existing database of JASA/PSCF. A rich metadata tagging/indexing system allows us to use search tools to present these resources in many different useful formats. We are in the process of developing some guided tours through these resources with introductory comments, background information, and even study questions for individual or group reflection. Since ASA provides an open forum on faith/science controversies these resources can help people work through the issues involved. At this point there are three nearly complete collections: “Getting Started in the Evolution/Creation Discussion,” “Reading Genesis,” and “Adam and Eve and Human Origins.” Preliminary work has been done additional topics: “Age of the Earth,” “Intelligent Design,” “Environmental Stewardship,”  “Divine Action,” “Philosophy of Science,” “History of Science”, “Body and Soul,” “Bioethics,” “ASA History,” “ASA Authors”, “Annual Meeting,” and “Recent Issues of PSCF.”  These are all accessible from the Resources on Science and Christian Faith (RSCF) page at  http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources. There is opportunity for reader comments and ratings that eventually will allow the most useful resources to be identified by the learning community.

Please join us in this quest that takes seriously both God’s Word and God’s world.

ENDNOTES

1. From the title page of Modern science and Christian Faith, F. Alton Everest, ed. (1948, 1951)
2. For example, see the 2014 ASA brochure http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/network.asa3.org/resource/resmgr/Media/ASA2014Brochure.pdf
3. Darryl G. Hart, “The Fundamentalists Origins of the American Scientific Affiliation” PSCF 43:238-248 (1991) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Hart.pdf
4. John W. Haas, Jr., “Irwin A. Moon, F. Alton Everest and Will H. Houghton: Early Links between the Moody Bible Institute and the American Scientific Affiliation” PSCF 43:249-258 (1991) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Haas.html
5. Mark A. Kalthoff, “The Harmonious Dissonance of Evangelical Scientists: Rhetoric and Reality in the Early Decades of the ASA” PSCF 43:259-272 (1991) http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Kalthoff.html
6. Richard H. Bube, “The Future of the ASA: Challenges and Pitfalls” PSCF 43:272-277 (1991)
http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1991/PSCF12-91Bube.html

Communicating Climate Change with Mind and Heart

This past Friday (9-5-2014) I attended Katharine Hayhoe’s lecture entitled “Communicating Climate Change with Mind and Heart.” The sponsor of the event was The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Here’s the YouTube video of the lecture. Anyone interested in an abbreviated version of Katharine’s talk can find her recent talk from the 2014 meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) or her keynote from the 2011 meeting of the ASA or her book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. Katharine is an evangelical Christian who is a climate scientist. Many evangelicals are global warming/climate change skeptics and Katharine seeks to communicate to that skeptical audience that global warming/climate change is real and that the evangelical faith of these skeptics ought to motivate them to see the urgency of the problem and to take action to protect God’s second greatest gift, our planet, and to be concerned about the effects of climate change and its impact on our neighbors (especially in the underdeveloped majority world) whom we are commanded to love.

It was a great talk and I would recommend listening to Katharine and paying heed. As the Q&A time winded down a question came to mind. Unfortunately, I was not able to ask it. I will ask here though and doing so will afford me the chance to develop the question more fully–by the time I’m done it probably won’t feel like a question. Perhaps I can get Katharine to respond with a comment.

Hi Katharine. Great talk and thanks for all you do in communicating the message that faith and science are not incompatible. And thanks for all the tips on how to communicate climate change issues to skeptics.  As you anticipated in the press release this was not a hard-sell crowd. It was Boulder, CO after all–one of the more environmentalist-friendly places in the universe and just down the road from NCAR, the mothership of climate research. You might expect some pushback from this crowd on faith issues. I commend you for your unflinching affirmation of your Christian faith (ever so subtly lifting up Jesus Christ as God’s greatest gift) and calling on Christian values as a basis for action on climate change.

But as you have noted in your talks this is a “tribal” issue and almost everyone in the audience was from the same tribe. You’ve noted how most of us can’t be expert on climate change (or any issue for that matter) and that we get our opinions from the people we trust. So that’s one big issue here. The conservative Christian evangelical (most likely on the right end of the political spectrum) doesn’t trust anyone from the other tribe (and they consider left-leaning evangelicals to be in the other tribe). A few years ago I led a discussion among Christian faculty members at Colorado State University on this very question. This was a thoughtful group of academics but not all were scientists and on the whole they were politically conservative. I asked them if they thought their ideas about environmentalism were determined by the Bible or by their politics, i.e. that if Al Gore thought it was true that it must not be. They all immediately confessed that it was the latter.

As you noted, politically right-leaning evangelicals are going to get their opinion on climate change from people they trust–Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Focus on the Family, Cornwall Alliance and not from Al Gore or Barack Obama or Greenpeace. Sadly, those in the politically right-leaning evangelical tribe who become convinced of the reality and perils of climate change are often thought to have abandoned the tribe. Richard Cizik is a case in point.  Often there is a cluster of positions (abortion, environment, homosexuality, public assistance, national security, etc.) that seem to go together. Politically left-leaning evangelicals are perceived to have more in common with political liberals than evangelicals. (The perception runs the other way as well, I’m sure.) I admit to being at the right end of the political spectrum (even though I’m not a global warming skeptic and am an evolutionary creationist).

One of my dreams is that we right-leaning evangelicals who are scientists and who are convinced of climate change can convince some of these opinion makers on the right to see that climate change is not a right/left issue. The reality is that the opinion makers get their opinion from the people they trust. Why can’t they trust you, for example? Why do they have to trust climate scientists who have contrary views on climate change? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Glenn Beck interviewed you and changed his mind on climate change? So, here’s my question. Don’t you think that convincing these opinion-makers that they are wrong could be a fruitful project. What if we could tell Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck that we more or less agree with them on everything except their opinions on climate change? Might we get a hearing?

But this raises a challenge. At  your talk you showed the slide about the Founding Fathers and the issues of taxes and big government. This, I think, is the more fundamental issue and the reason that conservatives tend to be climate change skeptics. The answers of the tribe on the left seem to involve expanding government and increasing government regulation.  In the Slate article about you you promote free market solutions to decarbonizing our energy. I didn’t really hear you talk about this. I’d be curious to hear more. This is why I identify as a non-skeptical heretic. I’d be curious to hear if you put yourself in that camp too.

What are some of the market friendly solutions? Is some kind of carbon regulation necessary (whether cap-and-trade or carbon tax or Hanson’s tax and dividend)? Isn’t carbon regulation at its heart a left-leaning solution? Is there market incentive to moving to carbon free energy. Wind and sunshine are free and don’t get used up–it seems that there ought to be a market solution. Consumers pay less for energy. Companies that offer such services ought to be competitive. I’ve done back-of-the-envelop calculations that suggest that reducing captured CO2 to liquid fuels using carbon free energy (solar, wind, or nuclear) might be profitable given today’s oil prices. Why aren’t these solutions being pursued?

Well, you get the point. If CO2 is a pollutant, then cleaning it up becomes part of the price of producing it. But only if the government makes the oil and power companies (oops–more government regulations) clean it up.  Right? That’s how externalities are properly dealt with. Then the price gets passed on to the consumer. Of course, in the process other solutions (e.g. renewables) may gain some ground. Anyway, is there really a right-leaning solution? Should we press for cap-and-trade as a pseudo-market solution (which doesn’t seem to be working so well in the EU after all, but seemed to work for SOx)?

Some might argue that Christians shouldn’t necessarily be wedded to right-wing politics. I’m all for not letting faith get tangled up in politics, although I’m also a firm believer that faith has implications for all of life, including politics. Suffice it now to say that right-leaning evangelicals find support in a Christian worldview for their views of limited government and individual liberty.

Bottom line–I’m convinced that global warming is true and that human produced CO2 is the chief culprit. And I’m doing all the low carbon footprint things I’m supposed to be doing. What conservative solutions am I supposed to advocate to take care of this problem?

Shameless PlugEnergy: What the World Needs Now by Terry M. Gray & Anthony K. Rappé

Event Character and the Early Chapters of Genesis

The debate about the historicity of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Flood, the Genealogies, the Tower of Babel continues. Faith/science and faith/history discussions are where the discussion seems to be the most pressing. Are these stories in the first chapters of Genesis in any way historical? Some of them, such as the Adam and Eve account and the Fall account in Genesis 2 & 3 are deeply embedded in the confessional documents of certain traditions–namely Reformed and Presbyterian 16th and 17th century confessions and perhaps others. Unless one moves to a very loose confessionalism, these expressions of the Christian faith are committed to historicity if they are committed to their confessional documents.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) is a denomination that has struggled (and continues to struggle) with how to maintain the historicity of certain events in redemptive history (Adam and Eve’s creation in a state of innocence and their subsequent Fall and the effect of that Fall on the rest of humankind) especially in light of the findings of modern biology, paleontology, and anthropology concerning the origin of human beings which is largely regarded as being full legitimate.

In this post I provide an extended quote from the denomination’s 1991 report on Creation and Science that illustrates what the CRCNA refers to as event character. The point here to to illustrate that the CRCNA affirms some aspect of historicity, but does not claim to locate it precisely in ordinary history. Historicity is deemed to be an important part of what the text is claiming, but any attempt to identify the event with any particular ordinary historical event is doomed to failure because the historical account has been so stylized and adapted to serve an extraordinary redemptive historical purpose.  An earlier report from 1972 on The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority initially developed the idea in the CRCNA.

What precisely is the character of the Bible’s account of the earliest history of the world and humankind? This question constitutes the nub of the problem we are dealing with, and at present there is no consensus among evangelical biblical scholars. The best we can do is to present an example which we believe does justice to what is known about pre-Abrahamic history, to what Report 44 says about the necessity of distinguishing between an event and the way it is reported even while maintaining the event character of biblical historical narrative, and to the revelational significance of the historical account.

The example is the Tower of Babel story. The traditional interpretation of this account in Genesis 11 seems to conflict with the findings of historical linguistics, for there is a great deal of evidence that the diversity of languages precedes Babylonian culture. Since babel in Hebrew is the standard word for Babylon and since the Tower of Babel very probably refers to a characteristic institution of Babylonian culture, the temple tower (or “ziggurat”), the biblical narrative refers to a civilization which already knew a diversity of languages, such as Akkadian, Sumerian, and Egyptian, to mention only three well-known languages from the Ancient Near East. According to linguistic evidence available today, it would seem that the diversification of language must have taken place long before the rise of the Old Babylonian culture.

Because of this conflict some propose to read the story as a parable illustrating human pride but not as a historical narrative related to an event or to a series of events. But “parable” seems not to do justice to the overall tenor and context of the story, which functions as a part of the broad historical prologue to God’s call of Abraham and the history of God’s chosen people. Thus various other interpretations have been proposed. One suggests that, while the story does indeed concern Babylon, the judgment of God refers not to the origin of languages but to a breakdown in communication. The word translated as ‘language” can refer to “talk” or to “speech” in a more general sense. Then the whole episode speaks of the religious pride of the Old Babylonian empire, centered in the ziggurat dedicated to the god Marduk in the City of Babylon, and of God’s judgment on this proud manifestation of pagan culture. Ultimately it was a breakdown of communication, of mutual understanding, which brought disaster upon the first great empire of recorded history. Others, however, think it necessary to retain the reference to languages and then suggest either that Genesis 11 as a historical event must be assumed to be prior to the table of nations in Genesis 10 or that Genesis 11 should be understood as a history that compresses into a single event a process that elapsed over a period of time. In all of these interpretations connecting Genesis 11 to Babylon, the interpreter is assuming that an extensive and complex historical tableau is being described in a highly stylized manner and from a perspective that compresses history into a single focus to serve the purposes of the history of salvation. In addition, by its use of this history, however stylized the shape of its report, the Bible intends to illumine the basic nature of human history when it is divorced from the God who is Creator and Redeemer. Hence, Babylon continues to serve, even in the book of Revelation, as a symbol of the cities and empires which humanity erects in opposition to God. Beginning with the story of the Tower of Babel, Babylon is both a historical city and, in Augustine’s terms, a symbol of the City of This World in rebellion against the City of God.

Without placing a stamp of approval upon any single interpretation, we suggest that the approaches mentioned above satisfy the requirements of Reformed hermeneutics. Our increased knowledge of early human history has underscored the highly stylized and compressed nature of the biblical account and cautions us against drawing historical inferences unrelated to the revelational intention of the account. In such historiography the Bible does not intend to present the entire history in which the narrative is rooted, and the stylized character of the account prevents us from inferring what the total historical picture may have been. In spite of these limitations imposed on us by the nature of these biblical narratives, the function of the historical narrative concerning the Tower of Babel in the unfolding history of redemption remains clear. In general we can say that the primary intention of the historical narratives in Genesis 1-11 is to serve the understanding of the unfolding history of redemption, not to present us with a detailed history of pre-Abrahamic times.

Notice particularly the last paragraph. There is a recognition that the account is “highly stylized and compressed.” We are cautioned “against drawing historical inferences unrelated to the revelational intention.” We acknowledge that the Biblical account does not “present the entire history” and that we can’t even “infer what the total historical picture may have been.” Nonetheless, the historical character, the event character, of the account remains.

Theologically speaking, there is little difference with so-called non-literal, ahistorical, or symbolic treatments of the text. But the CRCNA insists on the event character (a nuanced historicity) because of the narrative functions in the overarching history of redemption (as summarized by its confessions).

Perhaps this approach is a way forward on some of these issues. Historicity is preserved but there is no expectation that the historical narrative of the early chapters of Genesis can be readily connected with the history of our history books in any precise way.