Understanding the need for simplicity does not answer all the questions which arise from the Genesis account of creation. In particular we must consider the speed at which creation took place and the age of the earth, two separate but interrelated areas. Geologists tell us that the earth must have taken four and a quarter billion years to form, while Genesis seems to say it took just six days. Which is correct?
In terms of the order of creation there is broad agreement between scientists’ findings and the Genesis account. Science agrees with the order of Genesis 1, with one exception: the sun, moon and stars do not appear until the fourth day, after the plants are made. This seems contradictory until we realize that the original earth was covered with a thick cloud or mist. Scientific enquiry confirms the likelihood of this. So when the first light appeared, it would just be seen as lighter cloud, whereas once the plants came and started turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, the mist was cleared and for the first time the sun, moon and stars were visible in the sky. The appearance of sun, moon and stars was therefore due to the clearing away of the thick cloud that surrounded the earth. So science does agree exactly with the order of Genesis 1. Creatures appeared in the sea before they appeared on the land. Man appeared last.
While scientists generally agree with the Bible on the order of creation, there are still areas of major conflict. These include the origin of animals and humans and a host of associated questions, including the age of the people who lived before and after the Flood, the extent of the Flood, and the whole question of evolution versus creation.
Before becoming involved in the detail of such questions, however, it is important to note that there are three ways of handling this problem of science versus Scripture. It is vital to decide how you are going to approach the problem before you do so. You must choose whether to repudiate, to segregate or to integrate.
The first approach offers a choice. Either Scripture is right, or science is right, but you must repudiate one or the other: you cannot accept both. Typically unbelievers believe science, believers believe Scripture and both bury their heads in the sand about the other.
The problem with repudiating science if you are a Christian is that science has been right in so many areas. We owe so much of our modern communication to scientific development, for example. Science is not the enemy some Christians seem to believe it to be.
The story of the discovery of “Piltdown man” is a case in point. When a skull from a creature which seemed to be half-man half-ape was discovered at Piltdown in Sussex in 1912, many saw it as evidence of some form of evolution. When it was later found that the skull was actually a forgery, Christians were quick to pour scorn on science. They forgot that it was science which had discovered the skull to be a fake in the first place!
Choosing between science and the Bible thus has problems attached. We should not accept scientific truth unquestioningly, but neither should we be foolish enough to call people to commit intellectual suicide in order to believe the Bible. It is not necessary.
The second approach is to keep science and Scripture as far apart as possible. Science is concerned with one kind of truth and Scripture with another. This view claims that science is concerned with physical or material truth, whereas Scripture is concerned with moral and supernatural truth. The two deal with entirely separate issues. Science tells us how and when the world came to be. Scripture tells us who made it and why. They are to be kept entirely separate for there is no overlap to be concerned about. Science talks about facts; Scripture talks about values and we should not look to the one for the other.
This approach has become very common even in churches. It comes from a mind-set shaped by Greek thinking, where the physical and the spiritual are kept in two watertight compartments. This kind of thinking is alien to the Hebrew mind, however, which saw God as Creator and Redeemer, with the physical and the spiritual belonging together.
If we take this segregated approach to Genesis we will be forced to treat the narrative as myth. Genesis 3 becomes a fable entitled “How the snake lost its legs”, and Adam becomes “Everyman”. The book becomes full of fictional stories teaching us values about God and about ourselves, and showing us how to think about God and about ourselves – but we must not press them into historical fact.
Just as Hans Christian Andersen wrote children’s books which taught moral values, according to this approach Genesis has stories with moral truths but no historical truth. Adam and Eve were myths, and Noah and the Flood was also a myth. This outlook extends beyond the Genesis narratives, of course, for once one questions the historicity of one section of the Bible it is a small step to question others also. This approach therefore leaves us with no history left in the Bible: plenty of values but few facts.
As with repudiation, then, the attempt to segregate science and Scripture also has its problems. In fact, Scripture and science are like overlapping circles: they do deal with some things that are the same and so apparent contradictions must be faced. And it undermines the whole Bible if we pretend that it is factually inaccurate but still has value. How then are we going to resolve the problem? Can the third approach help us bring science and Scripture together?
In trying to understand how to integrate the two, we need to remember two basic things, both equally important: the transitional nature of scientific investigations, and the changes in our interpretation of Scripture.
1. Science changes its views
Scientists used to believe that the atom was the smallest thing in the universe. We know now that each atom is a whole universe in itself. It was said until very recently that the X and Y chromosomes decide whether a fetus becomes a male or a female human being. Now this view has been overturned. The discovery of DNA has revolutionized our thinking about life, because we now know that the earliest form of life had the most complicated DNA. DNA is a language passing on a message from one generation to another â€“ and because of that it must have a person behind it.
A generation ago most people would have understood that nature ran according to fixed laws. Modern science now asserts that there is a much greater randomness than we ever imagined. “Quantum” physics is much more flexible.
Geology too is changing and developing. There are now many different ways of finding out the age of the earth. Some new methods are claimed to have revealed the age of the earth to be much younger, with 9,000 years at one end of the spectrum and 175,000 years at the other – much less than the four and a quarter billion years calculated previously.
Furthermore, anthropology is in a state of disorder. The prehistoric men thought to be our ancestors are now seen to be creatures which came and disappeared with no link with us. Biology has changed also, and today fewer people believe in the Darwinian concept of evolution.
All this means that while we should not discount the conflicts between scientific discovery and the biblical accounts, we would be foolish to try to tie our interpretation to a particular scientific age, given that scientific knowledge is itself always expanding.
2. Interpretation of Scripture changes
Just as developments occur in scientific understanding, so the traditional interpretations of Scripture can also change. The Bible is inspired by God, but our interpretation of it may not always be. We need to draw a very clear distinction between the Bible text and how we interpret it. When the Bible talks about the four corners of the earth, for example, few people today interpret that to mean the earth is a cube or a square. The Bible uses what is called the language of appearance. It talks about the sun rising in the east, setting in the west and running around the sky. But that, as we know, does not mean that the sun is moving around the earth.
Once we understand that scientific interpretation is flexible and that our interpretation of the Bible may change, we can then seek to integrate science and the Bible and make balanced judgements where contradictions seem to exist.
THE “DAY” IN GENESIS 1
Such an “integrated” judgement is much needed when we come to consider the arguments regarding the days in Genesis 1, a traditional battlefield in the science versus Scripture debate.
The problem of the days described in Genesis 1 and the real age of the earth was heightened by the fact that some Bibles used to be published with a date alongside the first chapter, namely 4004 BC. This was calculated by an Irish archbishop called James Ussher (another scholar went on to claim that Adam was born at 9 a.m. on 24 October!) All this despite the fact that there are no dates in the original until Chapter 5.
Ussher made his calculations based on the generations recorded in Genesis, unaware that the Jewish genealogies do not include every generation in a line. The words “son of” may mean grandson or great-grandson. It is easy to discount Ussher’s date, but we are still faced with a conflict between the apparent biblical assertion that creation took six days and the scientific assertion that it took much longer.
What was meant by the word “day” in the original language? This is the Hebrew word Yom, which does sometimes mean a day of 24 hours. But it can also mean 12 hours of light or an era of time, as in the phrase “the day of the horse and cart has gone”.
Bearing these alternative meanings in mind, let us consider the different views of the day in Genesis 1.”