Origins of the Cosmos Part 3
Understanding the Biblical Perspective on Creation from Genesis 1
How Genesis 1 Relates to the Modern Scientific Debate on Origins
The relationship between the Bible and science has become contentious, but it does not have to be. According to Lucas, “The questions asked and answered by science and religion are interrelated (so they are not to be kept totally separate from one another) but they are different (so they are not to be used to replace one another)” (2003, 131). This is an immensely important point for resolving the apparent tension between Christianity and science. All truth is God’s truth. Scientific research can tell us things about origins, and so can the Bible. Properly understood, science and the Bible do not conflict. Regarding cosmology, Genesis 1 and scientific study complement one another.
This interaction between theology and science is an important area for ministry in the twenty-first century. According to Josh and Sean McDowell, “Young Christians indicate that the supposed conflict between Christianity and science is one of the main reasons many of them leave the church” (2017, 403). Ministers need to understand and explain the relationship between the Bible and science. Although Genesis 1 was not a scientific treatise, in the places where it interacted with science, there should be no contradictions. Valid science will agree with valid biblical interpretation, and it is important for Christian apologists to demonstrate this principle. In Genesis 1, the writer claimed divine inspiration by writing about what God did “in the beginning” (1:1). If God inspired Moses to write the Genesis 1 cosmogony, then the text should not contain any errors. If God aided the writer, the ensuing text should exhibit inerrancy. If the text does not exhibit inerrancy, then God did not aid the writer. If Christians want to maintain the doctrine of inerrancy in the twenty-first century, which we absolutely should, then we need to address the supposed conflict between science and theology.
An important point for this debate is this: although God never makes mistakes, humans do, including both theologians and scientists. Hence, Steve Badger and Mike Tenneson suggested, “Both science and biblical theology depend on human interpretation,” which “is why neither discipline is infallible” (2014, 31). It is incredible to look backwards in time and contemplate all the things people “knew” that turned out to be wrong. Before Copernicus, they “knew” the Earth was the geographic center of the universe. Before Columbus, they “knew” the world was flat. Before Einstein, they “knew” the universe was eternal. I wonder how many things we “know” today that will seem ridiculous one hundred years from now.
There are basically three scientific disciplines, which are important to the study of origins: geology, biology, and physics. Geology helps us to understand when inorganic matter emerged. Since the eighteenth century, geologists have argued that the earth is ancient, billions of years old (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 407). The evidence for an old earth is strong and certainly impacts the conversation on origins.
Biology helps us to study organic matter. In biology, the most prevalent view on evolutionary development is called functionalism, in which “the main or sole fundamental organizing principle of biology is adaptation” (Denton 2016, 18). In this view, functional needs constrained the development of living organisms, such that “organisms are, in essence, like machines, contingent assemblages of functional parts arranged to serve particular adaptive ends” (Denton 2016, 18). Darwinian evolution is a subset of functionalism. Modern Darwinists believe that all living organisms are the result of natural selection on chance mutations (Dawkins 1996, 29). Mutations occurred which were advantageous for the function of the organism in its particular environment, and that organism survived to reproduce. Supposedly, Darwinism, extrapolated over billions of years, can explain the existence of all life in the cosmos. Darwinism, or functionalism, is the dominant view in biology right now (Denton 2016, 18).
Physics helps us to understand the universe on a macro scale. Physicists can tell us things about the laws that govern the universe and how it all works. Astronomy is also part of this, but we will include astronomy under this category called physics.
There is a big difference, however, between how these biologists, geologists, and physicists apply their craft and the intent of the biblical writers. When scientists discuss origins and cosmology, their “aim is to obtain factual information about the physical universe. It has no room for personal categories and moral values, the very things that are needed to inform a ‘livable’ worldview” (Lucas 2003, 131). Modern cosmology has a different focus than biblical cosmology. The biblical writers focused more on the metaphysical (why), while modern researchers focused on the physical (how). The problem with modern cosmology is that “the age-old link between cosmology and worldview leads people to expect modern scientific cosmologies to provide answers to the big questions of life” (Lucas 2003, 131). But they cannot do that. It is unfair to scientists to ask them why. Ask them how all you want. Why lies outside their scope.
The problem is that most people fail to understand that why-questions lie outside the scope of scientific research. The scientific discussion on origins excludes metaphysical concerns on a presuppositional level, which is fine; however, it has led our culture to some false conclusions in this age of scientism. We assume that the scientists have all of the answers. When scientific cosmology does not answer the why-questions, many people assume they are unanswerable, which creates problems. Such people fail to look to the Bible for their metaphysics because they mistakenly believe that the Bible contains scientific errors. Their thoughts are something like, if the Bible contains errors regarding the physical, why should I expect it to be accurate regarding the metaphysical? However, they are reasoning under invalid presuppositions regarding the limits of scientific research as well as the validity of the Bible. Science is limited to the physical by definition, and the Bible does not err, even when it touches the scientific disciplines.
Genesis 1 in Light of Modern Cosmology
Much of the confusion surrounding the relationship between science and Genesis 1 involves the meaning of the word yôm, translated “day” (e.g. Gen. 1:5). Roger Cotton remarked that there are three possible interpretations for yôm in Genesis 1—a literary construct, a twenty-four-hour day, or an epoch (n.d., 74). These three ideas for yôm have essentially birthed three modern interpretations of Genesis 1.
First, non-concordists generally viewed the term yôm as a literary construct for their purely theological interpretation of Genesis 1. Non-concordists compartmentalize biblical and scientific truth. They put science in one category and the Bible in another category. So, there are two different types of truth. There is scientific truth and biblical truth. But, this is wrong. As Augustine said in Latin two millennia ago, all truth is God’s truth. Non-concordists create this false dichotomy between science and religion that McDowell and McDowell suggested is driving many young people away from Christianity (2017, 403).
Second, Young Earth Creationists believe that the “most natural reading of Genesis 1 is to interpret the Hebrew word for day…as a literal calendar day” (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 410). Despite the evidence from geology, they have maintained “that the biblical record of six twenty-four-hour Creation days must be the lens through which all scientific evidence is viewed” (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 410). Their best argument does not come from Genesis 1 but from later commentary on it, especially Moses’ institution of the Sabbath (discussed above). Their intertextual argument is a good one. However, “implicit in this view is a young age for the earth and universe” (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 410). From their literalistic interpretation of the Bible, they posited a date for Creation somewhere between 3000 and 5500 BC. Such a young age for the earth is difficult to maintain in light of evidence from geology and physics.
Finally, Old Earth Creationists have argued “that the universe is ancient, and when Scripture is properly understood, it matches up with the mainstream scientific conclusions” (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 408). Some Old Earth Creationists posited a form of Darwinian evolution called “theistic evolution.” Advocates of theistic evolution “accept the scientific evidence for a universe that is billions of years old and embrace contemporary biological theories of evolution, but they stress that God guided the evolution of existing life forms from the original life forms that He created” (Badger and Tenneson 2014, 22). Does such a view cohere with the evidence from the Bible?
Darwinian evolution is philosophically opposed to the Christian worldview and it is one of the New Atheists’ main anti-theistic arguments (Dawkins 1996, 29). Darwinists a priori eliminate Providence from evolutionary development on a presuppositional level. In other words, first they assume that there is no God. Then they ask the question, “How do things exist?” Then, they argue that the best explanation for origins is natural selection. Darwinian evolution, by definition, explains the emergence of life by natural processes. Hence, J. P. Moreland correctly stated, “Theistic evolution is intellectual pacifism that lulls people to sleep while the barbarians are at the gates. In my experience, theistic evolutionists are usually trying to create a safe truce with science so Christians can be left alone to practice their privatized religion while retaining the respect of the dominant intellectual culture” (2007, 46). Theistic evolutionists embraced Darwinism, despite its anti-supernatural presuppositions, and attempted to contort the Genesis 1 account into an interpretation that matches. However, their Darwinian interpretation actually appears unnecessary in light of recent discoveries in microbiology, which we will get to shortly.
Although theistic evolutionists are part of the Old Earth Creation camp, Old Earth Creationists are not necessarily evolutionists—“Just because the earth is old does not mean evolution is true” (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 408). Some Old Earth Creationists have argued “that the days of creation are long but finite periods of time” (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 409). In order to match the scientific and biblical evidence, they pointed to the anachronistic interpretation of twenty-four-hour days happening before the creation of the Sun, as well as Peter’s observation “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). They also noted that the seventh day never ended in Genesis 1. However, as discussed above, Moses used yôm in the same context in his cosmogony and his instructions regarding the Sabbath day, which hurts this argument (Gen. 1; Exod. 20:11). Moses said that since God rested on the seventh day and made it holy, so should we. This command does not make much sense if that seventh day was not actually a day. So now what?
In an attempt to harmonize the twenty-four-hour yôm with the evidence for an old earth, Alan Hayward concluded that God issued divine commands each day, the implementation of which occurred over the course of history, perhaps billions of years (McDowell and McDowell 2017, 409). Hayward’s theory is called the divine fiat theory, and it seems to cohere well with the most current scientific evidence, as well as with the best interpretations of Genesis 1.
Genesis 1 splits roughly into two halves. Schnittjer summarized, “In the first three creating days God formed the realms for existence in this world—light and darkness, skies and seas, land and vegetation. During the next three creating days God filled these realms successively with celestial lights, birds and marine life, and the land animals and humankind” (2006, 62). Regarding the first half of Genesis 1, in 1929, Edwin Hubble observed “the isotropic expansion of the universe predicted by Friedman and Lemaître on the basis of” GR (Craig 2021). The universe is growing larger, which means that the universe “came into being a finite time ago” (Craig 2021). At some point in time, everything that exists in the physical realm did not exist. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).
As discussed above, Walton believed that bārāʾ in Genesis 1 meant something closer to design than create (2003, 162). William Lane Craig observed that GR “has the astonishing implication that as one reverses the expansion and extrapolates back in time, the universe becomes progressively denser until one arrives at a state of infinite density at some point in the finite past” (2021). Infinite density and nothingness are mathematically equal. Hence, for God to organize the infinite density into something finite and habitable was the same thing as His creating the universe from nothing because infinites do not exist in real life. Thus, when we account for the science and the apostle John, we see that bārāʾ actually meant both design and create at the same time (John 1:1–3).
Either way, the creation of the universe was a delicate task. This finite universe exhibits infinitely unlikely precision. Michael Denton noted, “The twentieth-century cosmological evidence that the universe is fine-tuned for life is based on the observation that if the various fundamental forces and constant which determine the structure of the cosmos and the properties of its constituents did not have precisely the values they do, there would be…no life” (2016, 248). The odds of the universe occurring naturally from the singularity in such a manner for life to exist are mathematically zero (Denton 2016, 248). This life-sustaining universe could not have materialized naturally, and it did not. God did it. No other explanation fits the facts.
On Day Two, God set into motion the plan for Earth. The expanse in the midst of the waters was Moses’ depiction of Earth, as it was situated in Space (1:6–8). Although this event occurred over the course of billions of years, God set it into motion on Day Two. On Day Three, God announced His design for the surface of Earth, including the plants that would grow there (1:9–13). On Day Four, He programmed His plan for the Sun and Moon and their relationship to seasons and days on Earth (1:14–19). On Day Five, He explained how sea creatures and birds would emerge (1:20–23). Finally, on Day Six, He articulated the development of land animals and humans (1:24–28). The beauty of this interpretation is that it coheres with Moses’ lack of concern for the chronology of Creation, while also accounting for the scientific evidence. Moses explicated the power of God and the reason He created, and scientists can reconstruct the physical processes. Moses, driven along by the Holy Spirit, explained the why of Creation. The scientists can fill in the gaps to explain the how.
How does the scientific evidence relate to this divine Architect view? Denton theorized, “If the laws of nature are, for whatever reason, fine-tuned to generate environmental conditions ideally suited to the forms of life that exist on earth…it certainly is not so outrageous to envisage that they might be also biologically fine-tuned to generate the grand hierarchy of forms themselves” (2016, 249). Denton’s theory, called structuralism, resembles the biblical account. Admittedly, structuralism stands opposed to the dominant Darwinism-functionalism paradigm, but does it cohere with the scientific evidence?
Denton observed, “The natural system is a natural discontinuum rather than the functional continuum that Darwinian biologists claim” (2016, 11). What does that mean? Species have distinct differences, which structuralists called homologs, that cannot be explained by natural selection on chance mutations. Denton expounded, “Many of the taxa-defining novelties…give every appearance of being a-functional ‘primal patterns’ which have never served any specific adaptive end;” therefore, “causal factors other than cumulative selection to serve functional ends must have played a crucial role in shaping living systems” (2016, 12). For example, all mammals have exactly five distal digit attached to their limbs. Why five? Does that random numbers serve some adaptive purpose? Or, take centipedes. Every centipede has an odd number of pairs of legs. Do odd numbers of pairs of legs serve some adaptive purpose? There are countless examples of these taxa-defining homologs that serve no adaptive purpose whatsoever. If these distinctive homologs do not serve adaptive purposes, they could not have emerged from natural selection. Denton utilized other proofs, including genetics and common descent in his defense of structuralism, but the analysis of homologs was his main proof (2016). He concluded, “The basic Types of life, and indeed the whole evolutionary progression of life on earth, are built into nature” (2016, 15). I do not even have the space to mention the work of microbiologists such as Michael Behe, who have demonstrated the inability of Darwinian evolution to create irreducibly complex structures such as cells, but you can read more about that in Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box. These microbiologists have wrung the death knell for Darwinism, but no one seems to have heard it.
In summary, scientific evidence depicts a cosmos imbued with the unlikely potential for life and life forms imbued with non-adaptive patterns. Moses explained the reason the universe appears that way—it was God’s plan. God said I made you this way (structure), so go and do this (function). The paradigm for Creation is structuralist, not functionalist. Structuralists viewed God as an Architect, who drew up the plans for nature to build (Denton 2016, 69). Structuralism comports with the biblical evidence from a divine fiat interpretation of Genesis 1, as well as the scientific evidence of non-adaptive type-defining homologs. Denton revealed, “The idea that…Darwinism is scientific while the opposing typological structuralist paradigm is quasi-mystical and unscientific, is simple nonsense” (2016, 29). Christians do not have to deny the scientific evidence regarding evolutionary development, nor do they have to accept a Christianized version of Darwinism. The conflict between science and the Bible regarding origins does not exist. It is a fabrication.
Modern Ramifications of Genesis 1
McDowell and McDowell correctly asserted, “Our understanding of Genesis 1 has implications for how we understand the rest of Scripture, modern science, and the nature of the gospel itself” (2017, 403). First, the so-called conflict thesis between science and religion finds no support in Genesis 1. Denton observed, “Virtually all current evolutionary biologists, even those who are insistent that Darwinism is insufficient, are stalled at an intellectual Rubicon, unable to cross—intuiting that Darwinism cannot provide a convincing narrative yet having no alternative view of nature to embrace” (Denton 2016, 278). They are stalled because they will not release their anti-supernatural presuppositions, not because no alternative view exists. Modern dissatisfaction with Genesis 1 is based on faulty presuppositions, not evidence.
Since God is the Creator, he has “sovereignty over all of his creation, including us humans” (Badger and Tenneson 2014, 34). If humans evolved by natural selection, humanism becomes the answer to life’s metaphysical questions regarding why we exist. If there is no Creator, then people exist to actualize themselves. However, both science and the biblical account point to the existence of an all-powerful, concerned Creator. Hence, the Christian worldview is the true answer to life’s metaphysical questions. The Creator created people for a purpose.
Finally, Schnittjer advised, “The earth-centered viewpoint of the fourth day is the opposite of the modernist perspective of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (2006, 63). The modernist viewpoint is that Earth is just another planet hanging in space orbiting a non-descript star. It is not that important in the grand scheme of the universe. The viewpoint in Genesis is the view from Earth out to the rest of the universe. Earth is not just another planet. Earth is the reason for the universe’s existence. In God’s view, there is nothing more important in the entire universe than human life. In summary, understanding Genesis 1 should disclose to modern humans that despite the prevailing cosmology, the Creator-God made everything that exists for humans to live in relationship with Him.
Genesis 1 has always represented an important window into the mind of God, both correcting and guiding human thinking. For its original audience, it corrected the flaws in the prevailing cosmologies regarding the nature of God and the nature of humankind. It has the same effect today. Genesis 1 sets the tone for the rest of the Bible as well as the rest of history. God made humans for a purpose, to reflect His image. The rest of the Bible explains how God intended to implement that plan; its implementation is ongoing. People today have an invitation—to become the image God created them to be. In their subjugation of the earth, those living in the image of God will invite others to reflect God’s image as well. The Bible began with this commission in mind, and it ended the same way. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come’…Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:17, 20).
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