January 13, 2008
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
If we can judge what interests people in the US from the choices made by the staff of Time Magazine as to what cover images will increase sales, then questions of “origins” are high on the list. The October 28, 1996 cover features the words “And God Said” with “Genesis” prominently displayed. This contrasts with the March 23, 1987 cover, which reads, “BANG” with an illustration of an exploding star. On August 15, 2005, the cover shows a thoughtful looking chimp with the words, “Evolution Wars” hovering over his head. And the November 13, 2006 cover squarely pits science and religion against each other with the legend, “God vs. Science”. The underlying issue is featured on the December 30, 1974 cover (“How True is the Bible”) and again on the December 18, 1995 cover (“Is the Bible fact or Fiction?”). Folks, at least in the US, seem interested in questions of origins and how these relate to the Biblical narrative. It seems that there are two “Big Issues”:
• Issue 1 – Origin of the universe
• Issue 2 – Origin of the human species
Taking issue 1 first…
The controversy stems, as most know, from the question of how to read Genesis 1 – 3. One option is to read the text as literal history.
As an illustration, James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin saw the text in this light. His calculation from the Biblical text was that the earth was created in 4004 BC.
More recently we see a similar perspective in “The 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” [A Google search on the exact phrase, “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” generated 20,800 hits this week]. Quotes from the Statement include:
“Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”
And: “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”
The problems with literal readings are in two groups:
Internal: There are two creation accounts in Genesis and they differ in regard to the order of creation.
External: Scientific evidence points to a universe that is ca. 14.1 billion years old.
One question that we might ask is, “Does God need to be “protected” from science?” Are non-literal readings of Genesis 1-3 simply attempts to stave off the ravages of science and somehow “protect” God? In fact, nonliteral readings of Genesis actually predate science by a very long time. The theologian Origen (ca. 185-254) wrote in his work, “On First Principles”:
“…occasionally the records taken in a literal sense are not true, but actually absurd and impossible……Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning existed without the sun and the moon and the stars?”
There have been efforts to “fix things” between the “literal” Biblical account and the modern scientific view, including:
• Day-Age theory: understand the “days” as “ages/eons” just as 1 day is as 1,000 years (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8).
• Apparent Age theory: God created the world to “look” 14.1 billion years old some 6,000 years ago.
• Gap theory: Propose a long time “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
• Selective Day theory: The 6 days of Genesis 1 are 6 particular days out of many millions.
• Logarithmic theory: Day 1 at 6 billion years, Day 2 at 2 billion years and so on, such that events line up approximately with the scientific record.
But the problems remain…
• Adding time to Genesis 1 does not bring it into conformity with Genesis 2.
• Adding time to Genesis 1 does not bring it into conformity with modern scientific theories.
Similarly, with Issue 2, the origin of the human species, there are really two options:
• Different in kind [humans and animals]
• Different in degree [humans as animals]
Modern evolutionary theories very much side with option 2 while a literal reading of Genesis 1 – 3 sides with option 1.
Underlying the arguments is the fact that Darwin’s theory is based on RANDOM variations, and this then brings us to the question, “Can “creation” involve randomness?” Put another way, is it really true that “God does not play dice”? (A quote from Einstein, often used out of context).
So how can we read Genesis in the light of what science has taught us? Possibilities include:
• … As a text about God (“In the beginning, God…”)
• …As a text about purpose and intent (An answer to the question, “Why is there something and not nothing?” or “Why is the universe this way and not that way?”)
Although there is much we could say about the “creation narratives” of Genesis, let us focus on one aspect; the use of technical language in the Hebrew text.
• The verb “bara” is used of God’s “creation” of the world …
• … and used of God’s creation of Israel (which is explicitly not “ex nihilo”, i.e. it is not “creation from nothing”)
• … and comes from a root meaning “cut, carve” and in some forms means “make a clearing, cut down trees”
• …always and only used with God or the divine as the subject
• …always used to refer to a revolutionary new phase in God’s work
Perhaps we can think about Genesis 1 – 3 in the light of John 1, where we read about the “Word” (= Logos)
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
• Among Greek philosophers the precise significance of Logos varies, but it stands usually for “reason”
• Reflects the Greek conviction that divinity cannot come into direct contact with matter.
• The Logos is the connecting link between God and the universe
• … the manifestation of the divine principle in the world
• In the Stoic tradition the Logos is both divine reason and reason distributed in the world
John saw the Logos (divine principle/reason) as incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth (the “Word made flesh”). Perhaps, then, the Logos (Word) is part of the clue to understanding “creation”:
John 1: 3b-5 “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.