Posted by: joeystarke | April 13, 2009

Creation: Genesis v. Science

The earth was waste and void

FIRST DAY

Let there be light

SECOND DAY

Firmament- heaven and earth

THIRD DAY

Water and land
Vegetation

FOURTH DAY

Stars and moon, seasons

FIFTH DAY

Animals
–    water, sea monsters
–    winged

SIXTH DAY

Animals
–    crawling on the ground
–    Mankind

SEVENTH DAY

– rest

___________________________________________________________________________________

PHYSICAL

Big Bang

BIOLOGY

Single-celled organisms
Simple Plants
Invertebrates (in the oceans)

Continued development of ocean life forms, including jawless fish

Land Plants, including ferns

Insects

Reptiles, spiders, amphibians

Dinosaurs
Small Mammals

Birds

Diversification of mammals

Marine and large terrestrial mammals

Apes

Hominids, including humans

In my observations, I have found that a lot of the conflict between religion and science on the side of religion is centered on the first creation story in Genesis. Many Christians, particularly those fundamentalists who use literal interpretations, truly believe that God created the world and everything in it in 6 24-hour days. Needless to say, this is in serious conflict with the understanding of how our world came to be according to evolution. One point that I want to address in this debate is that science and religion do not tell such a different story. If we compare the timelines from each source, the events of creation happen in almost the same order. On the first two days, we see the creation of the Earth, Sun, and our solar system, contributed to the Big Bang. On day three there is the separation of land and water, which considering plate tectonics, volcanoes, and the constant rain fall and evaporation cycles of a very hot early Earth does not seem unreasonable. Next, we see the building up of biological entities. The author of the story correctly observes that there had to be vegetative life first in order to support more complex life. After vegetation, animals start to appear. Again, the author correctly notes that animal life started in the sea. We can even consider the sea monsters to be dinosaurs, which were created alongside birds, which are now those to have evolved from a lineage of dinosaurs. Finally, life moves onto the land, with the creation of mammals and humans, both of who are late bloomers in the grand scheme of evolutionary history. The only day that seems out of place is the fourth day. But consider the following: Early earth had acidic oceans with a cloudy, acidic, non-life friendly atmosphere. It wasn’t until photosynthetic organisms (vegetative life) arose that the atmosphere was transformed to the one we know today, and it was after this event that the surface of the Earth would have been exposed to the stars/moon and true seasons would have been able to develop. I know that’s a stretch considering the author probably did not have access to all of that science, but it’s still consistent.

Here’s the bottom line.

The author(s) of the Genesis story did not have access to all of the scientific knowledge and processes that we have today. Nevertheless, he/she still made observations about the natural world when composing the story. First, he assumed that life cannot exist without a planet to live on, so the Earth must have been made first. The author noticed that life appears ordered, from very simple to more complex. It would make sense, then, that YHWH would work from the bottom up similar to any other construction project. The author observed that animals need food from vegetative life, and therefore the vegetation must exist before the animal. In an effort to list humans last to show their importance, the author tells that God created the most non-human like animals first (reptiles, birds), then created more human-like animals (cattle, mammals), and finally created humans. Again, this can been seen as a building up of species in regards to intelligence or self-awareness.

The use of 7 days is symbolic, but also practical. Who can really comprehend 65 million years? 400 million? The only reason we have these time estimates is a direct result of mathematics, not our true comprehension of time. The author of Genesis was just using a timeline he found reasonable for his scientific knowledge.

1 Genesis, then, is an early report of a scientific observation. As such, it can be subjected to reevaluation, reinterpretation, and improvements. Its religious undertones are a direct result of historical context. The author found it important to include his faith in his understanding of the natural world. He made good observations about order, but not knowing how these events came about he contributed them to God. Furthermore, under these considerations, science may be dictating religion, but this shows no change in the role of science in religion between the composition of Genesis (~500-1000 BC) and modern times (One topic of my paper is the concern that post-Darwinian science is dictating almost all aspects of religion to the point it is actually controlling what religions claim as truth. It also seems this is a one-way street, where religion cannot dictate or even contribute to science). Since we now know the mechanism of creation- physics and evolution- some believe this pushes God aside. However, who decided that “God” in Genesis needs to be replaced with “evolution”? It’s a somewhat arbitrary decision. I could just as easily say that we only need to insert “by evolution” after the word “created” in the text.

It appears this argument is reducing down to hermeneutics…

And how does this affect our understanding of Scripture as Divinely inspired, if it can be subject to extreme reinterpretation?

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Responses

  1. Joey, this is an excellent description of the similarities and differences between the Creation motifs and the scientific theories of the development of the Cosmos. As portrayed in the post, the classic “evolution vs. creation” debate has much deeper roots than most people believe. The “evolution vs. creation” controversy is intimately interconnected with the purpose and interpretation of Biblical Scripture and the overall relationship between science and religion.

    As I’ve noticed from my own research, you cannot simply just choose to believe in a “creation” idea or the theory of evolution. Your beliefs about the Origins of Life are influenced by and also affect your thoughts about the usefulness of science, the authority of Scripture, the worth of theology, the concept of God, the view of humanity, Jesus’ Redemptive Work. The List goes on and on. Before I started working on this paper, I did not realize that the act of accepting the validity of scientific work has such a profound effect on one’s theology and Christian beliefs. Now, I have a new appreciation for theologians who are working to incorporate science and evolution into their theological discourse.

  2. This is so interesting Joey, and I am really glad you wrote this post. I actually talked to both my mom and Nick this weekend about this topic, and I explained how well I thought the Genesis 1 account of creation paralleled the evolutionary process. I had not heard of this idea before, and so as I was explaining my thoughts I kept thinking, “I hope I am not feeding both of them total, unfounded crap…” So thanks for validating some of what I have been thinking!

    Though the two do seem to match up well, I do have one major stumbling stone in the step from higher animals to humans. At this point in the story, my mom was slowly beginning to freak out that I was going to claim that humans really are just the descendents of amoebas, and to be honest, I had no idea what to tell her. In my own research, I have come across the Catholic version of the reconciliation of evolution and creation, which says that while evolution is real, humans remain special in that God selectively formed them to have a soul and other higher-order characteristics (like reflective consciousness…). Other than that, though, I have no idea what to do with this “hole”. Nick has explained an idea that he has found in his research that says that humans do not even have a soul, but rather a spirit, and that all of our higher-order abilities are in fact the result of a more highly developed brain. I do not know if I agree with this, but it is a possible explanation worthy of study.

    So now I am still left with a big hole, and I was just wondering if you found anything about this in your own research Joey.

  3. Well, I’m not exactly sure either, but I’d like to throw something out to see how it sounds. This concept of spirit rather than soul seems to be an interesting topic, one that Trevor pointed out in our small group last week. I find it fascinating that after 2000 years of Greek influence on our concept of the soul and the afterlife, we appear to be reverting back to our Jewish roots. The ancient Hebrews believed that the person was essentially three parts: the basar, nephesh, and ruach. The basar is our biological body; the nephesh is the soul (the essence of the person, human nature, what makes us unique intellectual individuals); and the ruach is the Spirit of God, breathed into us to provide us with life. Humans, then, exist as a combined, inseparable entity made up of basar and nephesh. If we had these only we would be indistinguishable from any other animal. It is the Spirit of God that breathes life into us, providing us with our self-awareness and awareness of God. At physical death, the ruach leaves us and the basar dies still encapsulating the (unconscious?) nephesh. Your “hole” is the point in time when the ruach entered the first human(s). I have always thought that it was interesting/weird/puzzling how humans came to superiority out of Africa, with relatively little change as our ancestors spread across the world for a couple hundred thousand years (Many other organisms would have evolved into new species). Maybe this ruach has kept us united.

    Overall, I think we are seeking an unobtainable answer: When did the first human come to self-awareness and awareness of God and how did it happen?

  4. This is a very good point to make. When people talk about the incompatibility of religion and science I think they tend to drastically overlook or completely disregard how religion does not generally try to explain science, and that the ideas of God and His works can often fit within the constraints of the workings of science. I have never taken the time to list out the similarities and differences between scientific accounts of creation and the accounts found in Genesis. This is a very good point to make Joey. And I think your post reiterates the idea that God does fit into the world of science and science still makes sense if you incorporate God. However, some, like the New Atheists, see the science as existing on its own accord, without God behind it. Science can be approached from a few ways. Theists see it as being propelled by a creator and all-powerful God, and atheists see it as not necessitating such a being. This is why I have not found the overarching themes of the New Atheists arguments to be convincing. They conclude that we have science and therefore there is not God. Science does not answer this. True maybe science could exist without God, but its existence does not disprove God; it doesn’t answer the question. And I think you supported this very well, whether you intended to or not, by showing the coherence of the scientific and religious accounts of creation. Not to say that the New Atheists are not entitled to make this conclusion, I just think that looking at something as simple as the relatedness of the creation accounts shows a large hole in their deduction.


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