YES, YOU CAN
BELIEVE IN THE BIG BANG, THAT THE EARTH IS BILLIONS OF YEARS OLD,
EVOLUTION, DINOSAURS, AND ALL THAT JAZZ, AND STILL BE A CHRISTIAN! HOW
COOL IS THAT?
THE IDEA THAT GENESIS HAS TO BE INTERPRETED LITERALLY IS A RECENT
INVENTION. MARTIN LUTHER CRITICIZED ST. AUGUSTINE BECAUSE AUGUSTINE
THOUGHT THE CREATION ACCOUNT WAS A METAPHOR...AND THAT WAS IN THE 5TH
CENTURY A.D.! REFORMER CALVIN THOUGHT GENESIS DIDN'T HAVE TO BE
TAKEN LITERALLY. SIR ISSAC NEWTON THOUGHT MOSES HAD WRITTEN THE
CREATION ACCOUNT IN A WAY THE MASSES OF THE TIME WOULD UNDERSTAND IT.
" Quotes From A Mar./06 National Geographic Article - The Greatest
Journey Ever Told: The Trail Of Our Dna
On p. 62:
"The human genetic code, or genome, is 99.9 percent identical
throughout the world. What's left is the DNA responsible for our
individual differences - in eye color or disease risk, for example - as
well as some that serves no apparent function at all."
"...mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), is passed down intact from mother to
child. Similarly, most of the Y chromosome, which determines maleness,
travels intact from father to son."
"The accumulated mutations in your mtDNA and (for males) your Y
chromosome are only two threads of a vast tapestry of people who have
contributed to your genome. But by comparing the mtDNA and Y
chromosomes of people from various populations, geneticists can get a
rough idea of where and when those groups parted ways in the great
migrations around the planet."
"Scientists now calculate that all living humans are related to a
single woman who lived roughly 150,000 years ago in Africa, a
"mitochondrial Eve." She was not the only woman alive at the time, but
if geneticists are right, all of humanity is linked to Eve through an
unbroken chain of mothers.
Mitochondrial Eve was soon joined by "Y" chromosome Adam," an analogous
father of us all, also from Africa. Increasingly refined DNA studies
have confirmed this opening chapter of our story over and over: All the
variously shaped and shaded people of Earth trace their ancestry to
[From Christian Odyssey Magazine Online www.ChristianOdyssey.org]
Why the argument over Genesis?
One doesn’t have to be religious to know that a great controversy
surrounds the first chapter in the Bible. The way it is written seems
to suggest that the whole universe, including the Earth and all life,
was made by God in just six days. Some Protestant Christians insist on
taking this literally. Genealogies in succeeding chapters are then
supposed to lead us to the conclusion that all this happened 10,000
years ago, more or less.
This creationist viewpoint has been forcefully asserted, especially
during the latter part of the 20th century, and the media have been
very effective in reporting it. There is, therefore, a general sense
among the biblically illiterate general public (and even many
Christians) that the majority of Christians have always held such a
view. This is not the case.
According to Conrad Hyers, author of The Meaning of Creation,
allegorical interpretations of Genesis 1 were common in the Patristic
(early) and Medieval Church, whereas Protestant Reformers leaned toward
a literal approach. Martin Luther, for example, criticized Augustine
(A.D. 354–430) for Augustine’s allegorical interpretation of the six
days of Creation.
Today, there are numerous religious books about the Genesis Creation
written by evangelical or fundamentalist scientists who ridicule
evolution and rewrite geological history, meanwhile demanding that the
Genesis accounts can be interpreted only and wholly literally. Wedded
to a particular paradigm, they fail to consider carefully what type of
literature it is, why it was written, who the audience was, and what
were the historical/cultural and religious settings in which Genesis
The fact is, a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 has nothing to do
with science, and it is poor theology to suggest it does. "Young earth"
creationists have overlooked the first principles of exegesis. Exegesis
is the systematic study of Scripture to discover the original, intended
Translation of the fifth tablet of the Enuma Elish
Compare the order of deities with that of the celestial bodies in
Genesis 1:16, in which the order is deliberately reversed. He [Marduk]
made the stations for the great gods; The stars, their images, as the
stars of the Zodiac, he fixed. He ordained the year and into sections
he divided it; For the twelve months he fixed three stars. The Moon-god
he caused to shine forth, the night he entrusted to him. He appointed
him, a being of the night, to determine the days; Every month without
ceasing with the crown he covered him, saying: "At the beginning of the
month, when thou shinest upon the land, Thou commandest the horns to
determine six days, And on the seventh day to divide the crown." When
the Sun-god on the foundation of heaven … thee, … [tablet here damaged]
When exegesis is done properly, Genesis 1 is seen for what it is—a
literary masterpiece, an intelligent, carefully crafted assertion of
monotheism against polytheism (many gods), a matter of great
significance for the people who were alive when Genesis 1 was written.
Many chapters of the Old Testament record how the people of Israel
preferred to "go whoring after other gods" than follow the one true God.
Cosmogony or cosmology?
Moses wrote the Creation account as a cosmogony that was intended to
counter the well-known cosmogonies of the pagans.1
A cosmogony is a story of the genesis or development of the universe
and the creation of the world, whereas cosmology is strictly a formal
branch of philosophy dealing with the origin and general structure of
the universe. We know what the commonest pagan cosmogonies were because
they are preserved in cuneiform script on clay tablets.
The best-known cosmogony, the famous Babylonian creation epic known as
the Enuma Elish, itself based on earlier, pre-Mosaic versions, was
written some time after Moses. When you read a translation of it (see
box), you can see what the Israelites were up against. It describes a
struggle between cosmic order and cosmic chaos. There are great sea
monsters, and the chief divinities, in order of pre-eminence, are the
stars, the moon, and the sun. Other gods abound in the cosmogonies—gods
of darkness, water, vegetation, various animals, and so on.
"Exegesis is the systematic study of Scripture to discover the
original, intended meaning. When this task is done properly, Genesis 1
is seen for what it is—a careful, intelligent, extraordinarily crafted
assertion of monotheism against polytheism. It is stunning in its
brevity and effectiveness."
The Enuma Elish and earlier cosmogonies help us understand why the
Genesis account is written as it is. As one archaeologist has written,
Genesis freely uses the metaphors and symbolism drawn from a common
cultural pool to assert its own theology about God.
In the beginning…
Let’s now look at the structure of Genesis 1 to see how this works (for
this you might want to consult a Bible). It starts out with a summary
statement: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth [the
Most of the verses in the chapter hinge upon the next statement, in
verse 2: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon
the face of the deep." The following verses explain how God
respectively structured and "filled" the conditions of formlessness and
emptiness. The six days are arranged in two parallel sets of three
(noted as early as Augustine in his City of God), such that what is
created on days four through six populates the appropriate realm
structured in days one through three.
Problem Preparation Population
Verse 2 Days 1-3 Days 4-6
darkness day 1a - creation of light (day)
day 1b - separation from darkness (night) day 4a -
creation of sun
day 4b - creation of moon and stars
watery abyss day 2a - creation of firmament (sky)
day 2b - separation of waters above from waters below
day 5a - creation of birds
days 5b - creation of fish
formless earth day 3a - separation of earth from sea
day 3b - creation of vegetation day 6a - creation of
day 6b - creation of humanity
without form and void tohu (formlessness) is
formed bohu (the void) is filled
The point of this symmetry in Genesis 1 is that the form of the
presentation is at least as important as the content. With this
perspective, it is clear that the structural framework is artificial
and therefore was never intended by the author to be taken literally as
a seven-day historical account (with God resting on the seventh day).
The fact of God’s creative authority over everything is certainly
intended literally, but the seven-day framework is just that—a
As Victor Hamilton in his 1990 commentary on Genesis 1 wrote, "A
literary reading of Genesis 1…understands ‘day’ not as a chronological
account of how many hours God invested in his creating project, but as
an analogy of God’s creative activity. God reveals himself to his
people in a medium [a seven-day week] with which they can identify and
which they can comprehend."
How the ancients saw the world
We need to understand that, for most peoples of the ancient world, all
the various regions of nature were divine. There were sky gods, earth
gods and water gods, gods of light and darkness, rivers and vegetation,
animals and fertility. Everywhere the ancients turned, there were
divinities to be petitioned, appeased, or pacified.
Each day of Creation in Genesis 1 takes on two principal categories of
divinity and declares that these are not gods at all but creations of
the one and only true God. This includes humans, none of whom—not even
kings or pharaohs—are to be worshipped as gods.2
From the Egyptian book of the dead, the god Shu separates Nut (the sky)
from Geb (the earth). Hebrew monotheism (one God) was a unique and
hard-won faith. The temptations of idolatry and syncretism (blended
religion) were everywhere. Later in history, it came to be understood
just how liberating was the concept of monotheism. From time
immemorial, superstitious people have attributed natural phenomena, or
calamities like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, to gods
who were beyond understanding (except by a priestly elite) and had to
be appeased and not questioned. Genesis 1, on the other hand, asserts
that there are no gods but God and that his creation is comprehensible
and amenable to investigation. This perspective made possible the
scientific study of nature.
Verse 16 of Genesis 1, when understood, is amusing. As an intentional
put-down, it deliberately reverses the order of the chief deities of a
well-known cosmogony. The sun—called the "greater light" to avoid using
the only available Semitic names for the sun, which were names of
deities—comes first, then the moon, the "lesser light." The stars—the
highest deities—are barely mentioned in a throw-away line: "He made the
stars also"! Not only that, Genesis 1 makes it plain that they are not
to be worshipped; they were made to serve—daily, seasonally, and
calendrically. And none is accorded astrological significance.
You see the contrast? In this chapter, God overcomes darkness, makes
order out of chaos, and even makes the great sea creatures, which, as
it happens, are not monstrous. The impressive orderliness of Genesis 1
and its patterned structure are a deliberate response to pagan
mythologies. The Hebrew God has no competitor and there is no cosmic
battle going on. Everything is under control.
Genesis 1 is not at odds with modern geology and biological science.
This is not an issue here. To insist that it is does violence both to
Scripture and to science. As Victor Hamilton wrote, "This is a word
from God addressed to a group of people who are surrounded by nations
whose cosmology is informed by polytheism and the mythology that flows
out of that polytheism. Much in Genesis 1 is patently anti-pagan…. The
writer’s concerns were theological."
Both Henri Blocher and Rick Watts (see Further Reading) have
highlighted the similarities and differences between the Genesis
account and some themes apparent in Egyptian cosmogonies (something
relatively few scholars have attempted). In short, Genesis 1 is a
corrective against polytheistic concepts encountered by the Israelites
in their old land as well as in their new. •
Dennis Gordon is a biologist in a government research organization in
New Zealand and an Associate Member of the U.K.-based Society of
Ordained Scientists. He obtained his PhD in 1973 (Dalhousie University,
Canada), was baptized in the same year, and was ordained in 1980.
Blocher, H., and R. Preston. In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of
Genesis. InterVarsity Press, 1984. 240 pages.
Gibson, J.C. Genesis (volume 1). The Daily Bible Study Series.
Westminster John Knox, 1981. 228 pages.
Hamilton, V.P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. The New
International Commentary on the Old Testament. Eerdmans, 1990. 522
Hyers, M.C. The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science.
Westminster John Knox, 1984. 216 pages.
Watts, R. "Making Sense of Genesis 1." Stimulus 12(4) (2004): 2–12.
1 Moses is taken to be the author of Genesis. As Henri Blocher,
Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, Illinois, has written: "We
stand…with the contemporary specialists who maintain the traditional
positions, those suggested by the Bible itself, which associate Genesis
with the work of Israel’s most powerful thinker, ‘our Teacher,’ as the
Jews call him, Moses." And for good reason—his training in Egypt and
his later pastoral life uniquely equipped him intellectually and
spiritually, as one who was "instructed in all the wisdom of the
Egyptians" (Acts 7: 22) and who was filled with the Spirit of wisdom,
which he later passed on to Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9)
2 All humans, men and women equally, not just pharaohs and kings, are
said to be made in the likeness of God, with the royal prerogative of
rulership (properly, stewardship) over the earth. This equality of men
and women, extended to common folk, was revolutionary teaching!
FROM VERTICAL THOUGHT MAGAZINE:
"Where Do the Dinosaurs Fit?"
"Figuring out when the dinosaurs lived relative to man isn't really
"by Mario Seiglie "
"I don't believe in the Bible because dinosaurs lived a long time
before man ever did."
"Have you ever heard a statement like that? I certainly have—many
times. In fact, this was one of the principal reasons Charles Darwin,
the father of the theory of evolution, eventually rejected the Bible.
Many have followed suit. "
"Most people believe you can't reconcile dinosaurs and the Bible—but
they are wrong. This erroneous idea is based on the supposition that
either you have to believe in the young-earth theory of a 6,000
year-old earth and dinosaurs living with Adam, or you can't believe in
the creation week account of Genesis Chapter 1. "
"Yet many would be surprised to find that several centuries ago
scientists did believe in dinosaurs, an ancient earth and in creation
"In fact, many of the first geologists who established the basic
geologic column were believers in both the Bible and an ancient earth. "
"British physicist Alan Hayward wrote about these premier geologists:
"Among them were William Buckland and Adam Sedgwick. Buckland held the
chair of geology at Oxford in the early nineteenth century, while
Sedgwick was his counterpart at Cambridge [University]. Both were
leading churchmen, and both preached the plenary inspiration of
Scripture and argued in favor of special creation … "
"Buckland maintained close links with Sedgwick and the famous French
geologist, Baron Cuvier … They did much to persuade the early
nineteenth century church that the earth was extremely old and that
such views could be harmonized with the teaching of Genesis" (Creation
and Evolution, 1985, pp. 72-73). "
"Proper chronological sequence "
"It is interesting to note that two Bible experts in the 1970s combined
their skills to publish The Reese Chronological Bible, which supports
an ancient earth and a creation week that is actually a re-creation of
a devastated earth. "
"Edward Reese was a professor of Bible, history and missions at Crown
College in Powell, Tennessee, and spent 20 years putting biblical
events in chronological order. Frank Klassen was an architect and
engineer who spent 10 years writing The Chronology of the Bible. They
both agreed that the account of Genesis had important biblical events
occur between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. "
"In fact, they felt the first verses of the Bible chronologically would
be John 1:1-2: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God."
"This is the same way 20th-century Church of God leader Herbert W.
Armstrong explained the real beginning of the biblical account. Before
space, matter and energy were created, there existed the Word (who
would later become Jesus Christ, see John 1:14) and God (who later
would be identified as God the Father). "
"Next in The Reese Chronological Bible comes a scripture that speaks of
God existing before the creation of the earth, Psalm 90:2: "Before the
mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the
world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God."
"Then comes the traditional first scripture of Genesis 1:1: "In the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This marks the
creation of the universe as we know it, including the galaxies, stars
and planets. "
"But the most fascinating part of this Bible is what follows—not
Genesis 1:2, but Isaiah 14:12-17, where Lucifer's fall from heaven is
recorded. Next comes the parallel account of Lucifer's fall in Ezekiel
"Devastation and renewal "
"Only then comes Genesis 1:2, "The earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was
hovering over the face of the waters" (emphasis added). In the New
International Version (NIV) of the Bible, a footnote to the word "was"
in this verse says, "Or possibly became."
"Apparently, something happened to cause the earth to become, as the
Hebrew denotes, "chaotic and in confusion." Since God is not the author
of confusion or chaos (Isaiah 45:18; 1 Corinthians 14:33), it makes
sense that the earth became that way due to Lucifer's rebellion and
subsequent expulsion to the earth. "
"As Jesus Christ remarked, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from
heaven" (Luke 10:18). Other scriptures reveal it was not only Satan,
but also the fallen angels that were cast down with him. We read in 2
Peter 2:4, "For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast
them down to hell [from the Greek tartaroo, a place of confinement, and
in this case, the earth] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to
be reserved for judgment …"
"Revelation 12:3-4 describes the dragon (Satan, verse 9) as having
drawn a third of the stars of heaven to be cast down to the earth—these
"stars" being symbolic of angels (compare 1:20)."
"What we don't know is how long it took Lucifer to rebel—and how long
this was before the six-day renewal of the earth culminating in the
creation of Adam and Eve, as described in the rest of Genesis 1.
Satan's rebellion apparently happened after the earth had passed
through the dinosaur age. Then, geologists agree, something dramatic
occurred between the age of reptiles and the age of mammals. "
"As the famous paleontologist G.G. Simpson once remarked: "The most
puzzling event in the history of life on the earth is the change from
the Mesozoic Age of Reptiles, to the … Age of Mammals. It is as if the
curtain were rung down suddenly on a stage where all the leading roles
were taken by reptiles, especially dinosaurs, in great numbers and
bewildering variety, and rose again immediately to reveal the same
setting but an entirely new cast, a cast in which the dinosaurs do not
appear at all, other reptiles are supernumeraries and the leading parts
are all played by mammals of sorts barely hinted at in the previous
acts" (Life Before Man, 1972, p. 42). "
"This apparently reflects the change from the pre-Adamic world to the
world of man. Certainly there are smaller reptiles in our world, but
they are insignificant in comparison to what existed in the previous
"What has been presented here is not the only "ancient earth"
explanation available, but it seems to make the most biblical sense. It
is the only explanation I know of that accepts the literal 24-hour days
of the creation (or to us, re-creation) week and, at the same time,
makes room for an indefinite period before the creation of mankind that
could include the dinosaurs and previous eras. "
"Recent geological and astronomical discoveries, such as cosmic
expansion and signs of meteor impacts at the Cretaceous-Paleocene
border of the geologic column, have only served to substantiate this
"So, if anyone tells you he or she doesn't believe in the Bible because
of a dilemma with the dinosaurs, let that person know there is more
than the young-earth explanation available—one that fits well, as best
we know, with the biblical facts. "
About the Author
Mario Seiglie is a father and the pastor of United Church of God
congregations in Garden Grove, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii.
Creation and Evolution:
How did God bring about the rich variety of species on earth? (From
Christian Odyssey Magazine)
Almost 150 years ago Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species.
The debate between science and religion has been fast and furious ever
since. Darwin proposed that life on earth began hundreds of millions of
years ago and developed by evolution through natural selection—a stark
contradiction of the Christian fundamentalist view that God created
everything in six literal 24-hour days.
Theologians had been arguing since the days of Augustine about how to
rightly interpret the Creation account in the first chapter of Genesis,
but Darwin’s revolutionary ideas gave the debate a new face. “If you
don’t believe Genesis 1 is literally true, then you are questioning the
whole Bible,” evolution’s opponents declared. “Reject evolution and you
lock yourself into an anti-scientific worldview that blocks progress,”
its supporters argued.
Have you ever wanted simply to talk about the issue in a calm and
reasonable way, without being made to look foolish, ignorant or hostile
either to the Bible or to scientific discovery? Perhaps such a
conversation would go something like this:
Have you ever wanted simply to talk about the issue in a calm and
reasonable way, without being made to look foolish, ignorant or hostile?
I’m confused. I’m not a theologian and I’m not a scientist. But I know
what the Bible says about how life began, and I also know basically how
the theory of evolution explains it. They can’t both be right, can
they? So who do I believe—God or the scientists?
That’s a good question, but it isn’t quite as easy as that. This is not
a straightforward “either/or” issue. There are many sides to it with a
lot of misunderstanding thrown in, and it is quite understandable that
you are confused, so let’s look at this broad question in some detail.
I have heard that some Christian denominations have dropped their
opposition to the evolutionary theory and now accept evolution by
natural selection as a valid explanation of the development of life.
It’s true that many major denominations have come to terms with Charles
Darwin’s theory, in one way or another. The Church of England has
officially apologized to him for the decades of misrepresentation.
However, millions of Christians still firmly reject evolution in favor
of an explanation based on a more or less literal interpretation of the
Genesis 1 account of Creation. This is particularly true in the United
States, where some surveys show that more than half the population
claims not to believe in evolution.
There are two major schools of thought on how to resolve the conflict.
Really? What are they?
One is Creationism and the other is Intelligent Design. Creationism is
a term to describe the belief that the Genesis 1 account of Creation
should be understood in strictly literal terms. Creationists typically
believe that the seven days in Genesis 1 were 24 hours in length, and
they are adamant that anything short of this literalist interpretation
necessarily leads to undermining the rest of the Bible.
The problem is that such an interpretation flies in the face of
scientific research, and, for many, it defies common sense. Creationism
is not allowed to be taught in public schools as an alternative to
evolution, because it is considered a religious idea, not a scientific
one. If we’re realistic, we have to admit that this is true.
Creationism does not offer a proven, rigorous and valid scientific
alternative to evolution, but is based on a single narrow
interpretation of the first chapter of the Bible.
Many Christians prefer an alternative explanation, known as
“Intelligent Design” (ID). Proponents of ID accept the findings of
science, but argue that evolution cannot explain certain features in
the development of life. These unexplained features, or “gaps,” are
evidence of an “intelligent Designer,” they claim.
In an effort to skirt the ban on teaching religion as science in public
schools, they do not insist that the Designer be called God. They thus
hoped that ID could be taught in schools as an alternative to Darwinian
evolution. But this was challenged in a historic case in York County,
Pennsylvania, where it was ruled that Intelligent Design could not be
classified as science, because it incorporated a supernatural element.
Even though it did not specify the identity of the Designer, it was, in
the court’s opinion, another form of creationism. (See article on ID.)
However, it isn’t just the courts who have a problem with ID. Many
scientists who are also committed Christians (and there are many) point
out that although ID may at first seem to be a plausible approach, it
is dependent on an unstable “God of the Gaps” theoretical foundation.
Opponents of Darwin’s theory have always pointed out that there are
inconsistencies and gaps that evolution by natural selection cannot
explain. For example, they point out the lack of fossils of
transition species. They also make the point that when you consider the
mathematical odds against even one living cell being formed by a chance
combination of non-living components, there has not been enough time
for evolution to have taken place. In fact, they say, the odds are so
great as to be impossible, no matter how much time elapses.
These are reasonable objections—there do appear to be “gaps” in the
theory of evolution by natural selection. Opponents of evolution then
seize on those “gaps” as evidence of the supernatural action of the
Creator, who becomes “the God of the Gaps.”
The trouble is that any time further research fills in a particular
gap, the “God of the Gaps” idea loses some of its force. Breakthroughs
in scientific disciplines such as molecular biology have refined the
theory of evolution by natural selection and have steadily eroded what
once looked like irrefutable arguments against evolution. The “God of
the Gaps” domain is steadily shrinking. Not all the gaps have closed
yet, and there are still some important unanswered questions. But as
new research continues to uncover answers, the traditional challenges
to evolution are losing ground.
The development of species over vast periods of time tells us that God
either created some form of evolutionary process in the beginning or
continually created new species by fiat over billions of years. In
either case, creation was no cosmic “accident.”
A growing number of believing scientists are recognizing that to fight
a rearguard action for the “God of the Gaps” is not the right approach.
A fact is a fact, even if it is an inconvenient one. And if the facts
show that evolution is the most likely explanation for the development
of species, they must come to terms with it. They call themselves
“Theistic Evolution”! Sounds like a contradiction in terms.
Maybe, but it isn’t. Theistic evolutionists accept the findings of
science, and see no contradiction between the theory of evolution and a
proper understanding of the biblical account in Genesis 1.
But surely there is a contradiction. Evolution claims that species have
evolved over hundreds of millions of years. Doesn’t this contradict
what the Bible says—that God directly created each and every life form?
Not necessarily. The Bible only tells us that God is Creator; it says
nothing about how he created. The scientific evidence does indicate
that the various species of life have evolved over a very long period
But how can we be so sure about that?
We can’t be 100 percent sure, of course. All science can do is study
the evidence that has been left behind in fossil form and apply current
knowledge and techniques, such as genetic science and the various
radiometric dating methods, in order to form conclusions that seem in
keeping with the evidence.
What theistic evolutionists are saying is that the revelation of the
Bible in no way rules out the possibility of life forms evolving
through time. Although the number of theistic evolutionists is still
small, they have introduced some ideas that are worth considering.
[Readers who would like to know more will find a short list of books on
this topic in the “I’ve Been Reading” feature.]
But why would God have used a process like evolution?
Why not? You could equally well ask, “Why did Creation take him six
days? Couldn’t he have done it all in one instant?” But leaving the
question of life for a moment, let’s take a look at the way God may
have brought the universe into existence.
Most scientists believe that our vast universe came into being in one
“big bang” some 15 billion years ago. Not all believe this, but let’s
say for argument’s sake that this is when and how the universe got
started. At the moment of the big bang and for some considerable time
afterwards, galaxies, stars and planets did not exist. The universe
evolved over billions of years to a kind of soup of hydrogen atoms, and
then expanded over more billions of years during which galaxies, stars,
planets and other elements of the universe came into existence. Thus
the universe became what it is today through gradual development, the
natural consequences of God’s original creative act. Perhaps God
also did something like that with life on earth. The point is that a
process like evolution need not contradict the reality that God is
But if you accept that the universe is 15 billion years old and that
life on earth is billions of years old, doesn’t that contradict the
biblical revelation in Genesis 1 that God created everything in six
literal days or, as a few Creationists suggest, several thousand years?
It contradicts only if you insist on a literal interpretation of
Genesis 1. And if you insist on a literal interpretation of this
skeletal framework of days, this could only be six 24-hour periods.
The first problem with accepting a six-day creation is that it flies in
the face of common logic and everything that has been discovered about
how the universe came into existence and developed. (As you say, a few
Creationists have stepped back from a literal interpretation of Genesis
1 and have assigned a life to the universe in the tens of thousands of
years. Their reasoning not only ignores science, but manufactures a new
interpretation of Genesis 1 based on their own imagination.)
All theories of a “young universe” are contradicted by the evidence of
astrophysics about the age of the universe and from geology and
paleontology about the age of the earth. On the other hand, accepting
an age of the universe in the billions of years does not contradict
either science or the biblical witness. The Bible only says that God
created all things that exist; it does not speak to the question of the
manner of the creative process or how long the creative process took—or
whether it is continuing even today.
Are you saying that a literal interpretation of the Bible is wrong?
It depends on the passage. Parts of the Bible that are intended to be
understood literally should be understood literally, and parts that are
intended to be understood figuratively should be taken figuratively.
For example, some 40 percent of the Bible consists of poetry and
It is a misinterpretation of the Bible to interpret poetic statements
literally. For example, God is not a literal hen, rock, tower, or
shepherd, even though the Bible describes him in such terms. Likewise,
when Jesus said the Pharisees were blind guides and that they swallow
camels, he did not intend for anyone to interpret his statements
literally; he intended that they be interpreted figuratively. Nor did
Jesus intend that people interpret his parables as literal stories of
literal people; he intended them to be understood as parables—made-up
stories that illustrate a point.
It is not watering down the Bible to read it the way it is intended.
Poetry should be understood as poetry, metaphors as metaphors, similes
as similes, and parables as parables. “Literal” and “true” are not the
same thing, and the truth is, to interpret things literally that are
not intended to be interpreted literally is to miss the truth
I hadn’t thought about it that way. So give me an example of how
Genesis 1 can be interpreted in a poetic or metaphorical way.
Think of the writer of Genesis 1 as living at a time when common oral
(and eventually written) traditions included creation epics that
presented visible phenomena, such as the stars, the planets, the sun,
moon, land, sea and animals, as gods. Some of these creation epics
began with a preexistent primordial mound out of which the first god
springs, who then in one way or another produces the other gods.
Another variation has the sea as the first god. Such epics were the
standard approach to explaining the origin of the universe.
Contrast that with the Creation story in Genesis 1. It uses the
standard style and genre of creation epics at the time. But using that
standard style, it makes the radical declaration that the God of
Israel, completely unlike all the gods of the nations, did not emerge
from anything, nor was he ever part of the universe. Quite the
contrary, this God created everything out of nothing simply by the
power of his word. Each of the things thought of by the nations as
being gods is systematically presented as having been created by this
God and being declared “good” by this God, demonstrating his utter
power over them.
Genesis 1 is about the Who of Creation, not the how. We should let the
writer of Genesis 1 make his theological statement to us about who God
is as Creator in contrast to the gods of the nations and not try to
interpret him as providing us some kind of scientific police blotter of
literal events and dates.
So should we be distinguishing between the fact that God created all
things on one hand and how he might have caused it all to come about on
Yes. There is a needless conflict between science and religion on the
matter of the Creation. The biblical revelation tells us that the God
who revealed himself to Israel and who has revealed himself to humanity
in Jesus Christ is the Creator of all that exists. This revelation is
not interested in detailing the physical processes he might have used
to bring about this universe that humanity is part of and has, as God’s
gift, both the capacity and the joy of studying and learning about.
This means that nothing factual that science can say about how the
universe came into being or how the process of creation has unfolded
throughout the history of the earth can contradict the biblical
revelation—as long as the scientific speculation doesn’t conclude that
God is not the Creator of all that exists.
But doesn’t evolutionary theory insist that everything came into
existence without a Creator?
No. It’s true that some scientists claim that everything came into
being naturally, spontaneously—without God’s original creative act. But
that is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.
On the other hand, many scientists do believe in God, and they do not
discount the biblical revelation that God is Creator. They do their
scientific work by studying the physical phenomena in the universe that
are the result of God’s creative act. They accept that Genesis 1 tells
us that God has created all things, but recognize that Genesis 1 does
not tell us how the creation process has unfolded or how long it has
taken to unfold. Scientists, using whatever evidence is available, seek
to better understand the wonders of the amazing universe God has
brought into being.
So where does that leave me—the average person? What is the proper
approach for a Christian?
We suggest curiosity mixed with humility. There are strident and often
angry voices raised on both sides of this question. They only make the
argument increasingly bitter and the divide wider. The fact that many
scientists can accept the findings of science that point to
evolutionary changes in the forms of life, while remaining committed to
their Christian faith, should be encouraging to the rest of us. It does
not have to be an either/or argument.
In fact, it does not have to be an argument at all. Realistic
scientists know that they might never uncover all the mysteries of
“Take a long, hard look. See how great he is—infinite, greater than
anything you could ever imagine or figure out!” (Job 36:26, Message
But as the Proverbs remind us: “God delights in concealing things;
scientists delight in discovering things” (Proverbs 25:2, Message
Bible). We may never fully resolve these questions in this life, but it
is a legitimate and exciting quest, and we are discovering wonderful
things along the way.
Grace Communion International, publishers of this magazine, sums it up
“We believe that God gave the scientific record for human instruction
and knowledge and that there is no conflict between the Bible and
science. We believe that when the Bible and scientific discovery appear
to conflict, that one or the other has been misunderstood. Therefore,
we do not deny the evidence from science that indicates a long history
of life on this planet. We believe that only God can create life, and
that the Creator has not revealed exactly how he has done this.”
(c) Uncommon Sense
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