Genesis 1 & Science
Ok, so a friend asked me a question via Facebook (gotta love it) and I thought the conversation was worth sharing.
Okay so my question may seem a bit out of left field but if you lived here (in my mind) too you'd understand its been hanging around for a while. However, it's been brought to my utmost attention by the caliber of classes I'm taking this semester; an anthropology class, a geology class, and a child development. (The child development class has nothing to do with it.) There is a lot of talk about our planet's million years of history and all that happened therein, and I recall (at least i think it was you) saying something about the account of creation in Genisis mimicking poems found later in the Bible and that it might actually be more symbolic than anything, and so basically I'm just wondering what you know and believe about Creationism vs. Evolution and how, if at all, you marry the two?And my response was as follows:
Genesis 1 is a poem. Of this I am convinced. In 1884 Charles A. Briggs, professor at Union Theological Seminary and Biblical scholarship legend, wrote a beautiful little article entitled "The Hebrew Poem of The Creation" arguing brilliantly and convincingly that Genesis chapter 1 is indeed a poem. So this is nothing new and I know that Briggs' is not the only article of its kind (but it might be the best... I can send you the article if you want).I've been asked enough times about the relationship between science and religion to know that I'm not the best guy to ask. My views are always changing and shifting. Whatever the case, the relationship is a conflicted one in which there are numerous inconsistencies and huge misunderstandings. But overall, I think writing my response to Ashley helped me formulate, once again, some thoughts that help me.
Genesis 1 was written in a world free from the presuppositions of modern science so its closest relatives are indeed other poems. Briggs compares the passage, part by part, with the Ancient Assyrian creation poem (Enûma Eliš)--pointing out striking differences and resemblances along the way--and with the 104th Psalm.
The Enûma Eliš is similar enough to Genesis 1 that we can assume that the author would have been familiar with it and was therefore writing in contrast to it (even if not specifically). He or she is giving an alternative creation account to offer a different and indeed a more hopeful perspective on God and God's relationship to creation. Rather than being the product of violent warfare among the gods, rather than being made from the blood of an evil goddess, creation in Genesis 1 is good and it is produced out of obedience to the One God. Man is not created to serve the gods but to reflect the image of the one God. God is not self-interested but indeed the one God of Genesis 1 delights in the goodness of his creation--created in peace by the spoken word. Thus Genesis 1, in its ancient context, would have been a beautifully fresh perspective--the perfect foundation for faith in a God or covenant faithfulness and loving kindness.
The 104th Psalm, rather than being a descriptive poem, is a poem of praise to God for his creativity. This song of praise reflects the hopefulness of the biblical perspective of creation. God is praised for goodness rather than out of fear. Psalm 104 actually follows a similar pattern to that of Genesis 1, going from light, to waters & land, to creatures, etc. These two poems are indeed kin to one another.
In its poetic form, the passage "rises up in its majestic grandeur above all the conflicts of human opinion" (Briggs). In other words, rather than taking sides in the creation vs evolution debate, Genesis 1 actually transcends the whole argument, refusing to be interpreted merely as an historical or scientific account. It's after something bigger than just a description of how it was done or how old the earth is or how long it took to be created. Those questions aren't even on the radar of the author. What he or she is really after is a radically refreshing proclamation of who God is and what creation is like. The point is not that it was created in six days but that it is good and that the God who, in freedom and creativity, called it into order actually delights in his creation, especially in those whom he created to bear his image in creation (that's us!).
So, since the bible seems to transcend the argument of creation vs. evolution, I guess I try to as well. Since the Genesis 1 in particular seems to be talking about something more important, I try to as well.
If scientists say that the earth is billions of years on (which makes sense to me) then I'll take that on authority. It seems that the only scientists who challenge that conclusion are not without a religious agenda which defies the rules of science (not that I personally feel bound to those rules). Now, scientists who oppose the idea of intelligent design with militant dispositions seem to have an agenda as well. Science should be quite open to the idea of intelligent design and, by the rules of science, should simply wait for evidence.
But building a scientific conclusion is different from building a religious faith. Following Jesus is not about objectivity or waiting for evidence. It's about taking the risk of failure and immersing yourself in a radically different kind of life, worshiping a radically loving God. The truth is that neither the scientist nor the religious person can be certain of much... science changes and God is bigger than our intellectual capacity. So, since the playing ground is pretty much even, we have to ask what's the best possible way to live? In what or whom can we place our hope? And we simply have to taste and see that the Lord is good.
To answer your question... I don't have an opinion about how old the earth is and I don't marry science and religion but I can accept all truth as God's truth. If the earth is billions of years old, I can accept that and it doesn't change much in terms of who God is and what creation is supposed to be like.
Does this help? Even a little?