How Can We Believe in the Bible? Part 3 - Six Days of Creation
So in our discussion of the Bible, we’ve covered two main concerns often raised, those being of memory and of translation. Now its time to dig into one of the MAJOR objections raised about the Bible: its apparent incompatibility with science.
How can we believe in the Bible and science at the same time? many people wonder, seeing them as incompatible with each other. I don’t myself, mind you, as one who knows LOTS about both.
See before I went in to the Seminary to study for the priesthood, I got a Masters in Mathematical Physics, studying the Black Holes, Modern Cosmology, Hawking, Einstein, all of that stuff. It wasn’t incompatible. In fact, I was always intrigued by the Bible’s opening, “and God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light.” Sounds a bit like the Big Bang to me.
Nonetheless, one cannot deny apparent differences between sciences explanation of things, and the Bible’s story of creation. The Bible tells us that God created the world in six days, and if we believe that there is a God, we’d certainly have to say that God COULD if he wanted to, being all-powerful and all. But science tells us it took several billion years, through a process called evolution.
The latter’s case is made by copious amounts of evidence: rock formations, fossils, bacteria, and most importantly, the fact that evolution of species still happens today, and is observed readily taking place in small systems all over the world. My orange long-haired wiener-dog is the product of animal husbandry, which is a form of genetic engineering, the same kind of thing that led to us being us today.
Even Pope John Paul II came out with statements that we must consider the Theory of Evolution, proposed by Darwin, and Astronomical theories about the formation of the Universe, as more than just guesses about the nature of the universe. It would seem that they accurately describe how we got here.
As such, it appears that God did not create the world in six days after all.
At least not LITERALLY.
But hold on. Maybe there’s more going in this the Bible’s version of creation than a scientific explanation.
First of all, we need to understand that the Bible actually contains TWO stories of creation, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. These two stories don’t contradict each other, but at the same time they are also CLEARLY not the same, likely the product of two SEPARATE oral traditions that had been passed down through the centuries.
The first one is our familiar six day version. Many will take this story at face value and believe in it word for word, while not noticing the picture of the world that it describes. It looks a bit like this:
The world is flat, and covered by a glass dome that keeps the “waters above the sky” from drowning us all out. Water above the sky was the ancient Hebrew explanation for why the sky was blue, and why rain fell from above – because God opens the floodgate doors and lets water pour in. In this universe, the Sun, Moon, and stars are all under the dome, and were created on day 4, despite the fact that DAYS have been counted for three days prior, somehow without a Sun to rise and set.
These are just some of the problems with the Bible’s version of things. But it turns out, this isn’t just what ancient Hebrews thought the world looked like. Babylonians, Hittites, Canaanites, EVERYBODY in that area of the world thought the world looked like this. And why not? Without the benefit of telescopes or precise astronomical measuring devices, with most people never going more than about 100 miles from their birth place in their entire lives, the world pretty much DID LOOK LIKE the picture above.
All that Genesis 1 does is describe the world as it was observed in 2000 B.C., and fills in the blanks, adding in a few important lines of explanation. Let’s take a look at those Biblical “extras;” maybe they have something to tell us, even today:
1. First there was chaos and darkness, then God conquered the darkness and allowed light to shine in – to create peace, to conquer fear. That's the kind of thing that God does.
2. God creates by saying “Let there be ---, and it was so.” God’s WORD is the power to create.
3. Whenever God creates something, he sees that it is GOOD. Trees, bugs, stars, atmosphere, ozone layer, hump-back whales, rain-forests – all things that we neglect or destroy – they’re all God’s creations, and they’re all GOOD.
4. Humans are VERY GOOD, having been made in God’s image. We can do things that God does – reason, meditate, and most importantly, LOVE. And ALL humans, even the smallest, poorest, weakest, are VERY GOOD, endowed with inherent dignity, as images of the creator.
5. God put humanity in charge – gave us responsibility to take care of creation, and participate in the work God has been doing for those six days. We're also ordered to "multiply," in other words co-create with God.
6. On day seven, God took a day off, just to rest and appreciate everything he had made. So should we.
I don't know about you, but all six of these points sound pretty good to me, even without having to believe in a six day schedule for things.
Now here’s the interesting thing – the six points I’ve made here cannot be derived from any scientific explanation for the universe. ONLY RELIGION, only THE BIBLE, can give us an appreciation of our inherent beauty, and the value of creation. Science can't tell us not to litter. It can tell us there may be consequences of littering that might be destructive to us, but who's to say one species' survival is so important anyway. In science, who cares really? GOD cares, that's what religion says - assigning an OBJECTIVE, UNIVERSAL MORALITY.
Still, why should we believe any of it, considering that the story itself is so obviously wrong?
Well, there’s another verse in the Bible, 2 Peter 3:8, that says, “For God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day.” Or maybe a million, or a billion years. Maybe the biblical DAYS in Genesis 1 are longer than 24 hours – why not? particularly considering that, as mentioned, the Sun wasn’t even created until day 4.
And one other curious observation is about THE ORDER of creation. Slightly reworked, science basically tells us:
1. The universe was created in a big bang (LIGHT).
Notice anything curious here? If we take the strict definition of “ONE DAY” out of the equation, we’re left with an ORDER that, coincidently, is pretty much the same as that given in Genesis 1.
Maybe the stories that science and that the Bible tell us aren’t that different after all. Maybe we can still look to science to do that which it does best – explain and predict on the basis of observed phenomena, and we can even believe that explanation – while at the same time we can look to the Bible to explain what IT does best – explain WHY there is a creation, to assign that creation VALUE, to make the BELIEF statement: that there is a God that accompanied creation all along the way, and is still present to us today.
That’s the six days of creation. I will cover the two other major Biblical controversies, Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark, in separate entries, simply because they are all SO important to how we understand this Bible of ours.
ADDENDUM - after letting this FAQ circulate for a few days, I realized maybe I should make some points of clarification.
First of all, I am not so arrogant to state that God DEFINITELY DIDN'T create the world in six days. He could have. Maybe he did. Being God, he could have made the entire universe as we see it today exactly the way we see it.
Personally I don't think he did, but he might have.
But I don't think it matters. We can still believe in the SPIRITUAL TRUTH of Genesis 1, without having to believe in it as scientific truth. That's my main point. IT IS STILL INSPIRED BY GOD, because it still tells us the truth that all things find their source in God, that all things have value in God's eyes, that we were created to be like God.
Why SHOULD we believe it though, if it isn't LITERALLY true? What credibility does it still have? It still has credibility because of everything I say above - about the order science predicts things to be being the same as the Bible's, about 1 Peter 3:8, and most importantly because WE KNOW that these things are true according to our lives, and our hearts.
Next week, I'm gonna talk about the story of David and Goliath, a story that is both spiritually and HISTORICALLY true, in order to give clarity to this issue.