I am often surprised that there are people, either atheists or Christian, who consider it an issue whether the world was created in six days or not.
Belief in God, and even belief in Jesus Christ, is not dependant upon believing that the first two chapters of Genesis are to be taken as literal history.
Likewise, a lack of belief in God is not dependant upon the age of the earth. Theoretically, I could believe the entire universe sprang into being 6,000 years ago, and still maintain that such an event was a cosmic accident that was misinterpreted by the author of Genesis.
About 1,400 years before Darwin, Saint Augustine of Hippo speculated on the age of the earth in light of Genesis. What drove him to such a question is that pagan myth and some secular histories of his day had held that the world was already over 10,000 years old, and he could not square this with Genesis.
In the end, he concluded that Genesis could not be taken literally because the sun was made on the fourth day. The question in his mind was how a day was measured without the sun? Furthermore, Augustine realized that later Scripture says that a day is like a thousand years to God.
In the final analysis, Augustine said, "The Bible was written to tell us how to go to heaven, not to tell us how the heavens go"
We do not really know whether the view of Augustine became popular among the laity, but it was prevalent among many theologians. Only when some early Darwinists claimed the theory of evolution dis-proved the very existence of God did theologians go into reactive mode and dogmatic fundamentalism was born.
I am convinced that the author(s) of Genesis never intended the opening chapters to be taken as literal history. This does not mean that they were liars. If I say, "It's raining cats and dogs outside", I am not lying, but using common idioms and literary devices to express the truth that there is a downpour of water outside.
The first chapter of Genesis is a poem. In Hebrew, the opening passage has rythm and metre. The opening verse has God hovering over an "abyss", which comes from a Hebrew word that is also the name of a Babylonian god of chaos, named Tiamet, spelled backwards. It would seem that the author of Genesis is employing some humor to say that his God is above the Babylonian god of chaos!
To drive the point home, the author's God is a God who neatly adds form to the formless abyss, and neatly divides his creation: night from day, the sky from the land, etc....This God orders creation through the power of language. This is a God of order. Our own concept of "logic" is derived from the Greek logos, meaning "word".
While the Old Testament was not written in Greek, the concept of the power of language to create oder was endemic to the Mediteranean and north African world. The author of the Gospel of John would later pick up the same theme by saying "In the Beginning was the Word...and the Word became flesh". This later author would explicitly use the Greek, logos to pick up a theme already found in Genesis. The God of Genesis is a rational God of ordered creative goodness!
The poem has a chiastic structure, meaning that a sort of criss-cross pattern is formed by comparing similarities. Each line of the poem ends with "and God saw...and God said, 'It is good'".
The creation account ascends from the lowest forms of inanimate matter to ever higher life forms culminating in the creation of humanity in God's own image.
This text is not a history of the earth. Rather, this is a hymn to the beauty of creation made by a good and loving God who does not act chaotically and demand human sacrifice or temple prostitutes!
The book of Genesis is not the Christian answer to Darwin's question.
Rather, the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is the definitive answer to anyone who says "Life's a b-tch, and then you die"!
The opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is also the definitive answer to those who believe that religion is justification for treating others as less than an image of God!
The opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is the definitive answer to anyone who claims that human persons are simply animals (the chiastic structure compares humanity in an upward direction to God, rather than a downward direction to prior creation)!
The opening chapter of the Book of Genesis is not about HOW God made the world, but WHO the one who made the world really is!
Lest anyone doubt the point, the compilers of the Sacred text preserve another story in chapter two of Genesis that clearly implies creation occurred in a single day! This creation account places the creation of humanity BEFORE the creation of animals, though chapter one said otherwise. This is likely an older account that sets the stage for the ongoing narrative of the Fall of humanity.
By combining the two stories, the editors of Genesis are saying that God created humanity because of his own goodness, and he made us like unto himself. Suffering is not God's will for us. Yet, in his goodness, the authors suggest that God permits freedom, and through our freedom, we initiate suffering in the world. This is one of humanity's oldest written grapplings with the mystery of suffering.
The narrative may not be a wholly satisfactory answer to the mystery of suffering to all readers in our modern era, but it ranks as one of the best, if not the best answer we human beings have ever conceived. To a Christian, the condition for the possibility of conceiving this answer was divine inspiration. Yet, even an atheist can appreciate the subtle beauty of the ancient answer as a first literary attempt to probe the mystery. Despite the limitations of the answer, Genesis presents a fantastic image of God that has stood the test of time given the reality of our current human condition!
God chose to reveal himself through human imagination. This should not surprise us. All knowledge is first conceived in the imagination. Before anyone ever circumnavigated the globe by sea, they first imagined that the world was round! Our most complex scientific theories, including evolution theory, are merely imaginative models that explain observable phenomenon.
Yet, the human imagination does not solely engage itself in explaining the physical universe. We week to interpret the meaning of life. Different types of literature express different ways that the human imagination is engaged in the pursuit of truth, and all truth is concieved first in the imagination.
If I want to know how to cure a disease, I would turn to a medical text-book. If I want to know how to verbally express love to my wife, I might turn to poetry. I repeat, different types of literature express different types of truth. If I want to know the age of the earth, I turn to an archeological study. The Book of Genesis does not appear to be written as a history text book. Rather, it is historical fiction used to make religious and theological points! I need to read the text understanding its intended purpose.
By inspiring the Book of Genesis through human agency, God has revealed himself as a poet more than a rationalitic objective historian relaying nothing but facts!
There may or may not be some history behind the text, but such a question is not the primary point of the authors and editors who compiled the story, and to try to read this as history is like trying to find quantum mechanics in Shakespear's Hamlet. It simply ain't there to be found!
This is not to say that I am an evolutionist either. As far as scientific theories go, I believe that evolution lacks the compelling evidence and predictive power that we can demonstrate with some other theories of natural science, such as atomic theory. It may be the best explanation to date - but it has weaknesses. Nobody has found the elusive transitional forms that evolution would produce if true. This is why many scientist are scrambling for better theories, and suggesting such alternates as punctuated equilibrium or even more radical alternatives.
I have heard Evangelical Protestants who do take Genesis literally argue that evolution is dehumanizing and produces a degrading image of God. Survival of the fittest can encourage cruelty, and implies God creates accidents.
On the other hand, maybe the fittest of all creatures are those who can form communities based on bonds of love! Even in the animal kingdom, the herd of little creatures can outlast the fiercest loners. And perhaps rather than thinking of extinct species as "accidents", we could see that each creature serves its purpose for its time. And for all its faults, evolution theory, or something like it, seems to be the best explanation for the fossil record we have to date. Does it matter whether God created the world in six days or 14 trillion years?
There are also fundamentalist arguments that since Paul says that sin came through Adam, or that the Gospel portrayals of Jesus depict Christ as appealing to Adam and Eve as justification for his prohibitions against divorce, the stories of Genesis must be taken literally as history.
This is fallacious reasoning. Don't most parents in America appeal to the story of the little choo-choo train that could when trying to inspire their children to persist at a difficult task? Does this imply that a real train could actually speak? Of course not! In a like manner, we can draw deep meaning from the stories of Genesis when reading them as if they were literally true, knowing that the authors and editors never intended the text to be taken as the final and definitive scientific theory or literal history in our modern sense of history.
There are theologians who are deeply immersed in Biblical spirituality who do not take Genesis literally and suggest that evolution may be a means by which God brought humanity into existence. This is not de facto heresy.
Yet, theologians who know through literary analysis that Genesis is not a history book should remain cautious of dogmatizing evolution theory. Should the theory of evolution ever prove false, we would look as silly as those theologicans who argued for geocentric universe.
Good science makes inferences from emperical observations of the physical world, and tests those inferences by means of attempts to falsify the hypothesis. The scientist is concerned with questions of how things work and how they fit together. It is not good science to start with a theory that comes from a book intended to answer questions that scienctist do not ask, and then look for empirical proof for your theory.
Creation science is bad science, no matter what the flaws of evolution theory. Yet, the evolutionists should not be as cocky as they are either!
Good theology interprets the movement of the Spirit of God in human history. Unlike science, theology is concerned with questions of why things are the way they are, rather than how things work. The questions are more philosophical than pragmatic.
It is not good theology to form a preconcieved notion of what questions a sacred text should answer, and force an interpretation on the text to demonstrate the question was answered. If God intended the text of Genesis to be read as literal history, I find it highly unlikely he would have inspired the author or editors to place two apparently contraditory tales right next to each other, as we see in chapters one and two of Genesis! The point is obviously something other than telling us answers to the questions of history or sceince!
There are those who seem to think that the answer to every concievable question is found in the Bible. Yet, the Bible never once tells us that one plus one equals two! The Bible never even claims to answer every concievable question! Those who believe that every conceivable question must have an answer in the Bible do violence to the texts trying to force answers to questions into the minds of authors who never conceived such questions!
So the bottom line is that our choice is not between Genesis and evolution.
We can see truth in both expressed in different ways to answer different questions. Genesis answers ultimate questions about the meaning of life and who God is for us. If we choose not to accept both the literal creation account and evolution theories as addressed to different questions, we are still not bound to one or the other choice. We can theoretically accept neither evolution nor Genesis, as many other world religions have done. Or, we can theoretically accept nuanced interpretations of both. Our options are not limited to two mutually incomensurate or incompatible choices, as so many people seem to think. We should limit ourseleves to "either/or" thinking.
When people ask me, "Do you think the world was made in six days?" My immediate response is "Who cares?" It is simply not the point of Genesis, and how God made the world is simply not important to me. What is important to me is WHO made the world and what her character is like. Genesis provides a wonderful image of who this person is!
Peace and Blessings!
Readers may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
posted by Jcecil3 4:01 PM