Creation vs Evolution
There are two approaches that a Christian may take when confronted with the rather awkward fact that the creation story presented in the Bible doesn’t accord well with modern cosmology. On the one hand you have people who accept the findings of modern science; in order for Genesis to be compatible with it, it must be read metaphorically. On the other you have those who take the Bible literally and insist that cosmology is wrong.
I must admit I have very little sympathy for those who take the latter view. It totally flies in the face of virtually all established science, and leads the believer to the absurd conclusion that God deliberately designed the world to look nothing like the Biblical account suggests it should.
While I could talk at length about why this second viewpoint is so utterly ridiculous, and I probably will in later posts, what I’m interested in focusing on today is the more reasonable option of trying to marry science and Genesis. While the motivation behind this project is praiseworthy, I think that this marriage ultimately fails. Even if we don’t interpret Genesis as a literal account of creation, we still face the difficulty that parts of the account directly contradict science suggesting that, if science is correct, God lied to us about how he made the world.
Genesis vs Science
The key point that I’m going to raise is not about the language used in the Bible. I have no qualms with the assertion that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, so describing things metaphorically instead of using technical terms like “baryon” and “quarks” is not a problem. What I believe is a problem for the Biblical account is that it gets the order of creation wrong. With this in mind let’s recap chronologically the scientific picture of the universe’s history:
- Spacetime begins expanding rapidly
- The universe cools and becomes transparent; light can finally propagate through it
- Our Sun forms
- Debris around the Sun coalesces into planets; the Earth is formed
- The Earth develops oceans and an atmosphere
- Plants and vegetation appear
- Animals appear
- Humans appear
Now let’s look at Genesis:
- The Earth was formless and empty, and God hovered over the waters
- Light was created
- The atmosphere and oceans were created
- Land appears and vegetation begins to grow on it
- The Sun, Moon and Stars are created (but God identifies the stars as other Moons, not other Suns)
- Animals appear
- Humans appear
Why the Order Matters
The thing to notice is that the order of events in both of these accounts is similar in some respects, but wildly different in others. While it is completely understandable that God might choose to communicate Genesis in metaphor, it doesn’t make sense that God would deliberately choose to lie about the order of the events. The order of events is an objective fact, so why does the order in Genesis conflict with the order in our scientific account? Genesis isn’t meant to be a scientific textbook – that’s the defence you hear most often about this – and I agree. If the Christian God does exist then I wouldn’t have expected him to tell people thousands of years ago about a solution to baryon asymmetry and the presence of the cosmic microwave background. But at the same time this account is supposed to be the word of God, so why is the order wrong?
At this point you may think I’m being far too fussy about this issue. I was once asked why I was focusing on such a “minute detail” when discussing this question. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be so picky, but you have to consider the context here and what Christians claim about this book and God. Their claim is that this book is the literal word of God. It may have been written and transcribed by humans, but the content is God-given. This means that the minute details of this book do matter very much. If God is omnipotent and omniscient, he would be able to get humans to write this book in whatever way he wanted. Whatever the content of the Bible, God essentially chose it to be that way. Getting ancient Jews to write it in a figurative way so that they would understand it seems a sensible choice, but it doesn’t make sense why God would choose to get the objective facts, the order of the account, wrong.
If God is this all-powerful entity that Christians claim he is, then if we accept the findings of modern science, we must conclude that he chose for the creation story to be wrong. At this point I think creationists reason correctly that it doesn’t make sense for God to have chosen to record creation falsely. The creationist’s subsequent mistake is to conclude that the Bible must be literal truth and science is waylaid.
Personally, I think the far more obvious conclusion is that the creation story presented in the Bible is exactly the kind of myth that ancient Jews would have made up. The myth isn’t too fantastical such that nobody would believe it, but it is also inaccurate- exactly what you’d expect from a made up account of creation that you want people to believe.