with Scientific Creation
***Note: Be sure to start with Part I of this series, which can be found here.***
In this installment I want to attempt to look at how the biblical account of creation (found in the Book of Genesis) compares with scientific reality, and how both can be useful source material. To do so we must first attempt to understand why so many Christians adhere to such a strict and literal interpretation of the Holy Bible.
During the Protestant Reformation, religious leaders like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Knox and many others revolted against the traditional doctrines of the Catholic Church, which had maintained a virtual monopoly over Christianity for centuries. Due to a number of factors (church corruption, disagreements over doctrine, church hierarchy, etc.) these "reformers" essentially sought to improve the conditions and direction of Christianity in their day. As a result, the Protestant Reformation brought to life different interpretations for what it meant to be a Christian.
One of the key arguments that arose from the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (By Scripture Alone). As mentioned above, one of the key problems that reformers had with the Catholic Church was the emphasis it placed on the supremacy of the Pope and other hierarchical leaders. The emerging Protestants had little tolerance for such practices and sought to place ultimate ecclesiastical authority in a source other than a Pope. In consequence, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura became extremely appealing.
At its core, Sola Scriptura suggests that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, and the only source for Christian doctrine. As a result, the authority of all ecclesiastical leaders became subordinate and inferior to the ultimate authority of the Bible. In short the Protestant Reformation taught the defenders of Sola Scriptura that no single person (i.e. the Pope) could ever claim superior status or authority over the Holy Bible.
It should therefore come as no surprise to learn that Sola Scriptura caught on very fast with the emerging Protestant congregations. As the Bible became more prevalent in the lives of ordinary believers (thanks to the printing press), more and more people were able to study for themselves the doctrines found in scripture. This essentially placed the burden of salvation back into the hands of the individual, since ultimately Protestants rejected the need to follow a Pope. By studying and then applying the teachings of the Holy Bible, one would be able to find all the needed guidance in order to gain salvation.
And as one would expect, any attack on the sovereignty and infallibility of the Bible was met with severe scorn. In Puritan America, for example, Roger Williams' ideas were met with such scorn that he was eventually forced to flee. Williams suggested that the anti-Christ was the Catholic Church (a common belief at the time) and that its distortions of true Christianity were so severe that a restoration of the holy apostleship was needed in order to know God's true will:
If Christs Churches were utterly nullified, and quite destroyed by Antichrist, then I demande when they beganne againe and where? who beganne them? that we may knowe, by what right and power they did beginne them: for we have not heard of any new Jo: Baptist, nor of any other newe waye from heaven, by which they have begunne the Churches a newe. (John Winthrop Papers, vol. III, 11. Quoted in Roger Williams: The Church and the State, 52, by Edmund Morgan).In other words, Williams was stating that Christianity needed further guidance and understanding in addition to what the Bible taught. Needless to say, this didn't sit well with those who embraced Sola Scriptura.
Fast forward to today. Scientific discovery has completely changed many of our traditional views of the universe, and in the process, has contradicted (heck, completely refuted) many of the teachings found in the Bible. As a result, those who defend Sola Scriptura are constantly attempting to explain (in a futile effort mind you) why the Bible is still the superior source of knowledge. Take for example this ridiculous debate over dinosaurs. If we take the Bible as literal truth, we must accept that the earth is no more than a few thousand years old (see 2 Peter 3:8). Faced with this Biblical teaching, defenders of Sola Scriptura must then attempt to explain why science insists that dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. Here is an example of their futile attempt to reconcile this dilemma:
Needless to say, this willful rejection of scientific fact combined with blind allegiance to ancient scripture, has become the main catalyst for today's religion/science debates. Men like pseudo-scientist Ken Ham (shown in the video above) have gone to such ridiculous and futile lengths to prove the Bible's validity that it comes as no surprise to see that 4 in 10 Americans believe in the literal Bible account of creation.
So how are we to reckon the realities of scientific discovery with the biblical accounts of creation? Perhaps we will never fully be able to. With that said, there are ways that we can see the truth of both arguments.
The "Seven Days" of Creation
The Book of Genesis opens with a very general overview of God's creation of humanity, the Earth and the universe in general. Needless to say, this vague creation story has become the topic of ridicule in the scientific community. After all, science has proven that the earth is much older than a few thousand years and life took millions of years not days (or 1000 years for each day) to develop.
But is the Genesis story of creation completely worthless? Should we discard it right out of the gate for its apparent flaws? If you accept Sola Scriptura my answer would be, yes. Of course the creation story in Genesis isn't literal truth as so many suggest. But if you believe that the Bible is ancient man's attempt to explain his origins, then some incredible truths can be found. If we take each day and juxtapose it to what science teaches, we can see that there are some striking similarities.
Genesis 1:2-5: 2.) And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.According to astrophysicists, the universe began when a singularity of light, heat and matter suddenly exploded roughly 14 billion years ago, sending an immense amount of heat, matter and gases into the expanses that became space. As the matter and gasses cooled, it eventually coalesced into giant galaxies, stars, nebulas, planets and other celestial bodies.
3.) And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4.) And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5.) And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Genesis 1:9-10: 9.)And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.Geologists have shown how during the Archean Eon the Earth experienced incredible tectonic activity. As the Earth's core continued to form, the planet experienced a huge jump in temperature. Volcanic activity spewed molten rock across the surface of the planet. During this era, the Earth's magnetic field was established, which protected it from the immense solar winds of the time (winds that were 100 times greater than what we see today). This protected the infant planet's atmosphere from being stripped away, unlike the atmosphere of Mars which was completely annihilated during this era. During the later parts of the Archean Eon and the beginning of the Proterozoic Eon, water began to form on the newly cooled planet's surface.
10.) And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:11-1211.) And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.At this point, life is introduced to the world. Some have suggested that these verses are in complete opposition to evolution since they employ the phrase "after his kind." Geologist and theologian Greg Neyman suggests otherwise. He writes:
12.) And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Notice that God did not say, "Let there be grass," and there was grass. God told the land to produce the vegetation! It was the land doing the producing, not God. God told the earth to bring forth grass, and in verse 12, "the earth brought forth grass..." In essence, God let the land "do its thing" on its own. Instead of flat, out of nothing creation, the text for Genesis actually supports evolution better!And when speaking of verses 20-21 (which also have to do with the creation of life) Neyman writes:
In this passage where God creates ocean life, He tells the ocean to bring forth the creatures. He does not say, "Let there be whales;" or "let there be sharks." Verse 21 shows the result, that "God created great whales." Verse 20 gives the process God used to create..."Let the waters bring forth..." Again, this seems to support evolution better than flat, out of nothing creation.This is an important and often ignored distinction. The Bible does not say that God simply snapped his fingers and created all forms of life. Instead, it says that "the water brought forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven" (Genesis 1:20). And as any evolutionary biologist will tell you, life on earth began in the sea. As evolutionary biologist Steven Faux (who happens to be a distant relative of mine) states:
Animal life developed in the sea before reaching dry land. The first fishes were evident about 500 million years ago. Land tetrapods (four-footed land animals) evolved from sarcopt fishes (lobe-finned) about 400 million years ago.So does the Bible support evolution? That probably depends on how you interpret the "Good Book." As I have stated before, any literal interpretation of scripture makes it extremely difficult to accept and embrace the realities of scientific discovery. It's just one of those unfortunate side effects of Sola Scriptura. With that said, I do not see any problem with embracing evolution and the general Genesis story. One can imagine those early biblical prophets, who lacked the current understandings of science, trying to explain the origins of the universe within the context of their time and understanding. From their perspective, breaking the creation into a week-long event seems to make sense, and all things considered, they didn't do as bad of a job as some seem to think.
By 300 million years ago the first reptiles were found.
The first mammal-like reptiles (synapsids) were evident by 200 million years ago. True mammals probably arose about 100 million years ago (see also: Bininda-Emonds).
The first birds (like Archaeopteryx) were evident about 150 million years ago, and they derived from dinosaurs.
***Part III: Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden***