Either because religiously affiliated people often avoid the topic or because a number of unaffiliated people dismiss the biblical account offhand, one gets the impression that there is considerable conflict between physical facts as we know them and the first chapter of Genesis. But the more one looks into it, the more one realizes that there is little potential conflict. (We call it potential conflict because it will become clear that there is none.) For example, there is no real argument with the content of creation--the creation of light, the separation of water and dry land, the creation of plants and animals, and so on. If any riddles need puzzling out, they are riddles of sequence and duration.
For the most part, the sequence of events in Genesis 1 seems familiar and reasonable: the creation of light, the separation of the planet from its atmosphere, the emergence of dry land and then the subsequent emergence of life forms, starting with plants, then animals and finally humankind.
But then, seemingly in the midst of that logical progression, comes the recitation about the sun, the moon and the stars, after the creation of plants. That does not seem to make sense, and so that is part of the riddle.
The issue of duration deals with how long it took to go from “formless and void” to a fully populated world with dry land, seas, plants, animals and people. Did everything happen in 144 hours? The evidence of the rocks suggests that it didn’t. And we are convinced that a careful reading of Genesis 1 is consistent with the evidence in the rocks. That is, the Book of Words is consistent with the Book of Works.
Science and God
There are people who would say that the fundamental error of Genesis is that it maintains that God created everything, while we know from science that there is no God. More particularly, they would say that it wasn’t a god who created animals and plants; the only creative force was random, mindless chance, with the results that we see shaped by reproductive success. Genesis is proved false by science, they would say, because Genesis mentions God and, worse, gives him a pivotal role in the creation of the physical world.
However, this is a false conflict. Science does not prove God doesn’t exist; science ignores him.1 Science limits itself to matters that can be proved or disproved by observation and experiment. Since the existence of God is not something that can be experimentally tested, science does not comment on God’s existence one way or the other.
But science has been linked in people’s minds with a materialist philosophy that insists that there is no spirit--that physical stuff or matter (like atoms) and the natural laws that govern them (like physics and chemistry) are all there is. But that is a philosophy; that is not science. And, logically, the Bible cannot be proved false by a mere philosophy, even if a number of people prefer it.
It is ironic but fact that it is only fairly recently that people even thought that there was a conflict between scientific inquiry and faith. The men who forged the scientific revolution, whose thinking laid the cornerstones of our modern scientific edifice, believed deeply in God. They were encouraged to pursue their scientific inquiries because they saw those inquiries as a way of glorifying God. They were convinced that God’s creation of the universe was so perfect that it could be described in universal natural laws. In setting out to find those laws--God’s laws--they laid the foundation for science.
For example, Johannes Kepler spent years and years in calculations with the data from Tyco Brahe’s astronomical observations because Kepler was convinced that God’s glory would be demonstrated in perfect mathematical laws governing planetary motion. But after publishing the first two of his laws in 1609, he was dissatisfied. He was convinced that these two laws were not beautiful enough to give full tribute to God’s genius. That conviction led him to spend another ten years doing calculations by hand to arrive at his third law of planetary motion.
EvolutionThese changes are displayed to show that we need to be cautious about declaring the Bible wrong when it conflicts with our current view of the facts. We can’t possibly be at the endpoint of scientific knowledge. Surely there is more to come, which will shed even more light on the workings of the world and the glory of God.
More particularly, there are people who would insist that Genesis is wrong because Genesis names God as the creator of different kinds of animals and plants, while we know from the theory of evolution that the different varieties of animals and plants evolved through random chance and natural selection.
But as popular as the theory of evolution is, it is still just a theory; it has not been proven to be a fact. A number of current writings suggest that the theory of evolution may not be entirely consistent with the observable evidence.2
The idea that evolution may not be the whole truth may come as a severe shock to people who place evolution on a par with the law of gravity. Therefore it is worth taking a moment to offer a few examples. These examples are not offered in order to constitute conclusive proof that the theory of evolution is wrong; they are offered to make the case that thinking critically about the theory of evolution is not a waste of time.
The theory of evolution holds that all the different kinds of animals and plants descended from single living cells that formed in the primordial soup of the ancient sea. That would mean that the fossil records should show gradually increasing numbers of species and body types. But it doesn’t. The fossil record shows a sudden, massive proliferation of body types in the Cambrian period (sometimes called the Cambrian Explosion or, because one might assume that the differentiation happened just before all the body types appear in the rocks, the Pre-Cambrian Explosion) and then a decrease in body types.
The theory of evolution holds that mutations happen at a fairly regular pace and then natural selection weeds out the good from the bad to produce new species. The assumption of fairly steady mutation has been used to work backward from variations in mitochondrial DNA among the current human population to calculate when the first human woman would have appeared. One can’t use changes in DNA as a timer unless one makes the assumption that the changes happen like clockwork. So if mutations are regularly happening, then one of the things that shouldn’t happen are species that stay essentially unchanged for millions of years.
And yet a number of species are said to have remained essentially unchanged over millions of years. The most well-known example is the fish called the coelacanth. Coelacanth fossils have been dated back over three hundred million years, and coelacanths were thought to have become extinct about sixty million years ago--until one showed up in a fish market in 1938.3 Such consistency of form over such a long time shouldn’t happen if the evolutionary assumptions are true.
Let’s go back to the single cells forming in the primordial soup. The classical evolutionary explanation is that lightning struck the waters and caused biomolecules (like amino acids) to form, and these biomolecules clumped together to form living cells. The cellular processes of life were put together step by step, each time getting a little more complicated, until they became the processes we see today.
This theory was formed when single cells were considered to be simple. But more recent biochemical analysis has shown that the biochemical processes that make up cellular life are complicated, multistep processes that could not have come together one step at a time. The only way these processes work is if all the steps and all of the ingredients come together at the same time. This simultaneous coming together of multiple steps and multiple ingredients is too complicated for random chance to manage, even random chance boosted by natural selection.4
All of which is to say that evolution is a theory, not a fact. And the accuracy of Genesis is not to be proved or disproved by a mere theory.
Changes in Scientific Thought
To further make this point about theory versus fact, consider the fundamental changes that have occurred in the settled views of the natural world over the millennia. People believed for years that there was a tiny human being, a homunculus, in each sperm cell--that was where babies came from. Some researchers were even convinced, as they peered through early versions of the microscope, that they saw the teeny creatures.5 But it took a Catholic monk working patiently with peas in a monastery garden to set the stage for modern genetics.6 Wouldn’t it seem silly, in retrospect, if we heard arguments that the Bible couldn’t be right because it conflicts with the fact that babies come from homunculi, something that everyone knows?
To illustrate how our views of the natural world--our sense of what was fact--have changed, here are a few of the major changes in the hardest of sciences, physics and astronomy.
Claudius Ptolemaeus, building on the work of predecessors, develops the Ptolemaic system of astronomy (c. 150 B.C.). This system places the earth at the center of the universe; the planets and the sun revolve around it in perfect circles at constant speeds.
In 1543 Copernicus proposes that the earth revolves around the sun.
In 1619, after years of calculations using Brahe’s astronomical data, Kepler finishes his three laws of planetary motion. These laws show that the planets not only go around the sun but also revolve around it in elliptical orbits and at varying speeds.
Gravity and Physics
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) creates a natural philosophy that will dominate Western thought into the sixteenth century. This school of thought holds that a rock falls because it is seeking its natural distance from the highest good (God) and that heavier rocks fall faster.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) discovers through experiment that heavier objects do not fall faster.
Between 1664 and 1704, Sir Isaac Newton discovers the mathematical law of gravity and describes fundamental principles of physics.
In 1900, Max Planck takes the first step toward quantum mechanics. Albert Einstein takes the second major step toward modern physics with the publication of his theory of relativity in 1905; according to the theory of relativity, gravity is a warp in the space/time continuum caused by mass. Quantum mechanics is developed during the course of the 1920s. Quantum mechanics combined with the theory of relativity become the basics of modern physics.
Chapter 3: What Conflict?
1That is not to say, however, that all scientists ignore God; a number of scientists are people of faith. But the scientific method has been defined to exclude divine intervention.
2 Two of the best are Phillip E. Johnson’s Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993) and biochemist Michael J. Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996).
3 Coelacanth,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1994), 3:429; “Coelacanths [Crossopterygii],” Encyclopedia Britannica 19:215-16.
4 Behe, Darwin’s Black Box.
5 “The Study of Types of Living Organisms,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 14:1112 “Preformism and Epigenesis,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 19:703.
6 Robin Marantz Henig, The Monk in
the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics
(New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
The Riddle of Genesis, Chapter 3