“In the beginning God created…” (Genesis 1:1)
I’ve never really had a problem with the idea that the story of creation as presented in the Bible and the discoveries of science can co-exist. I recall as a teenager sitting in a church youth group in a discussion about the creation narrative of the Bible with one of the other young people say, “what if we are still on day seven, perhaps God is still resting”. I think they were trying to be clever, to see what reaction they would get, others in the group didn’t think that as Christian’s we were allowed to believe anything other than a literal understanding of God creating the world in 6 days. There was a good debate and all kinds of ideas were shared and considered, for some it would have been uncomfortable, but I recall wondering why it was such a big issue, I still have the same bemusement regarding the portrayal of scripture and science as some sort of enemies.
Clearly if you believe that the Bible says God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour periods and then had a rest, science is going to be a source of tension when producing evidence of the world as being billions of years old. There are more than a few flaws in this perspective, not least the account in Genesis 1:3-5 says,
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.
What it does not say is how long the light and darkness lasted. In the UK summer days are longer than winter days… the longest day (summer solstice) has approximately 9 hours more sunlight than the shortest day (winter solstice). By comparison in Alaska there are periods of approximately 2 months of continual daylight each year along with another 2 months of continual darkness in some regions. Taking a literal reading of this account, I am left wondering which ‘day’ did God use for creating? Did God take advantage of 2 months of light or create using only 8 hours of light? If you move towards suggesting God is timeless or in control of time (which I reasily accept) then it moves away from the literal reading and each day can be millions of years if necessary.
Another challenge is presented in Genesis 1:16-18 is where it says;
God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.
We now know, thanks to science, that there is in fact just one great light in the sky, we call it the sun. The moon, which is supposedly a ‘lesser light to rule the night’, is not a light at all. The moon reflects the sun when they are both lined up but at times the moon cannot be seen.
Does it matter that there are potential holes in the story and that it is not an accurate account of how the world came into being? I don’t think it does. As I’ve said previously, I’m not a biblical literalist. I can have the faith to believe in God and I can believe God created, and I am quite happy to accept that how this happened is described poetically to help me grasp that God created but that how it happened is still a matter of learning and new insights. I do find it fascinating that so much scientific evidence and the theories this produces intertwines with what is portrayed in scripture.
As I understand evolutionary theories living creatures first began in the waters (following the order of the narrative in Genesis). We’ll look at the creation of humankind separately, but Genesis 2:21-22 says that God took a rib from man to make woman. Was this the only instance of God taking part of one creature and refashioning it to make another? Could it be that as God created, God chose to take parts and create adaptations of what there was already? Could this be an early mystical hint at evolution? I don’t know, but the science doesn’t disprove the idea of a creator God.
A number of years ago I spent time studying the environment at a facility in the States which was at the time run by Columbia University. I remember sitting in a lecture during the first week and the lecturer stated that they were working on the assumption that all students believed and accepted the theory of evolution. They went on to describe the origins of life as water born organisms which over time evolved to the point whereby some form of creature or organism left the water and began to adapt to living on land. After a comfort-break we went in to the next lecture, looking at biodiversity and invasive species, the lecturer informed us that no animal has moved into a new ecosystem without the influence of humans. They went on to describe how as humans have moved around and travelled the world, we have taken species to different environments that they would never have gone to on their own accord and then they have adapted to the new habitat. They also described how as humans destroy and alter ecosystems animals don’t leave, their numbers dwindle as they are faced with a decreasing habitat, they do not cross into new habitats or go in search for a similar ecosystem to the one that is destroyed in order to survive. Within the space of an hour, two lecturers advocating evolution contradicted one another. I don’t write this to denounce either, I respect both, I went on to learn some wonderful things from them and to understand how the contradictions can sit together (and where my inferior knowledge on the subject needed humility to learn and understand). However, what that course of study taught me was how much of what is portrayed as fact is theory, it is still developing as understanding and knowledge improves. It takes faith to believe in these theories, especially when you dig deeper and discover the gaps and contradictions, discovering pieces of the story are missing and also that as new evidence becomes available understandings are forced to change.
I am happy to hold my faith in God as creator alongside my understanding of evolution, both require faith. I am happy to hold the view that God set in motion the rules and processes for creation and enjoys the way that it continues to progress. Science and scripture are not enemies, both help us to find meaning and to understand the world in which we live.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things I gained from my time studying the environment with tutors who promoted the theories of evolution was there sense of awe, wonder and delight found in the natural world as well as their desire to care for and protect this beautiful planet which we call earth and know as home. The belief of Christian’s that God created the world and everything in it should be an incentive to be considerate of the natural world, to find wonder in those things God has created and to tend and care for creation, to nurture the natural world as both an act of worship honouring to God and as faithful stewards desiring to pass on the beauty to future generations. Sadly, all too often it is not people of faith who I find leading the way in seeking to protect and preserve the natural world. I enjoy nature, but the tutors I had the privilege of spending time with truly love nature. Their lives revolve around the care for creation and teaching others about this, yet they do not believe in a creator.
If God created the world surely a Christian witness would be one that limits travel, avoid fossil fuels, is aware of the ecological impact of the chemicals and products used to make our lives more convenient, and so on and so forth. Church buildings would be roofed with solar panels as the norm and disposal single use food and drink containers would be alien amongst Christian communities. Protests to effect environmentally positive change and bring forth ecological legislation would be led by Christian’s, able to point at the alternative way Christian’s live as an example for others to follow. Christian environmental groups are the exception not the norm, they are all too often the fringe of the church not central to the church. The church, like so many other organisations and groups of people, too often likes the comfort of convenience. Christian’s, like society as a whole, make decisions based on economic impact rather than by thinking about how our actions might impact upon our neighbours (both local and global) or on the earth we claim God created.
I want to say that my faith and belief cause me to live differently, but I am unfortunately part of the herd and often choose cheap and convenient over compassion and care. I believe that God created the world. I don’t know how it all came in to being, but I believe it was created. It is a wonderful, beautiful world that we are told God saw and considers ‘good’ (not perfect, good) (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). I believe the created world is to be enjoyed, celebrated, experienced, explored and to be carefully nurtured. I believe those of us who claim faith and hope in a creator God have significant responsibility to honour God through honouring God’s creation. I believe I must to better.