Thursday, January 4, 2007

Genesis

As I mentioned earlier, I have tried very hard to develop the spiritual discipline of daily Bible reading. For the past few years, I have used some variation of a Daily Bible plan (the link is to last year's version, this year I'm back to this). This week I began what I hope will be my 7th read-through. As an aside, if I could recommend any single daily activity to every Christian, this would be it. But one side effect of this discipline is that every January, I'm back in Genesis, and dealing in my mind with the issue of creation.

I know this is a touchy subject for many people. It provokes extreme reactions--for some of my Christian friends, failure to toe the line of 6 literal 24-hour days of creation is tantamount to heresy. For some of my friends in the academic world, to doubt even for a second evolutionary orthodoxy is an like saying you believe the world is flat. For both of these groups, taking (even exploring) a position different in any way from theirs cuts off all discussion, and marks the dissenter as someone who simply cannot be reasoned with. For the life of me, I just don't get all the fuss.

For starters, I believe the Bible is TRUE. All of it, including the parts (sometimes especially the parts) that step on my own toes. I am quick to admit that this requires faith; you cannot arrive there on 100% logic alone. But I'm a pretty nerdy guy--graph paper and DayTimer and spreadsheet nerdy, and my own "leap of faith" is pretty short... most of the reason I accept the Bible has been arrived at through cold-hearted analysis of the documents with my background as an ancient and medieval historian. I believe that the "chain of custody" of the translations we have of the Bible today is as good (far better, really) as most ancient documents, and I believe that the intersection of the Bible stories with secular history is accurate. The accuracy of this reporting, combined with the fulfillment of prophecy and the fact that 2000 years of hard work on the part of skeptics has not been able to shake the central message of Christianity, leads me to accept the whole 66 book-Bible as authoritative and inspired, and this includes the parts that I find difficult. If you've seen the Narnia movie, you may get the reference--when someone who you know to be truthful and sane makes what appears to be an impossible statement, then perhaps it's not so impossible after all. Therefore, my acceptance of everything from Abraham forward as "good history" convinces me that the creation, difficult though it may be, is a true story, too.

But there remains that fundamental friction between faith and reason. How, then, do we reconcile the evidence of science for a several-billion-year-old Earth with a true Genesis account? This is where I break from both sides' orthodoxy. Much ink has been spilled trying to work out this issue--the current incarnation of the argument is the "Intelligent Design" movement. Now many of the ID ideas are excellent... the "proof from design" or "proof from complexity" is one of the many reasons I believe in a creator. But I do not think that it is necessary to prove that the vast bulk of modern science is "wrong," or worse, a conspiracy, to accept the premise that Genesis is true.

Here's the thing: IT'S A MIRACLE. Therefore, the rules of science don't apply. Let's accept that on day six of creation, God made a full-grown man. How old would science tell you he is? 18? 25? Would he have been created with a belly button? All the scientific evidence might point to the passage of time, when in fact the miraculous creation took an instant. And if I can accept that, why not accept that God can create a full-grown universe? God transcends time, so trying to apply a timeline here just doesn't work for me.

I often think of God and creation in terms of the theory of relativity (as best as I understand it, which is at a very low level). I currently am sitting still at my computer. But if you back the "lens" up far enough, I (and all of us) are riding on an Earth spinning at phenomenal speed. And backing up even further, our whole galaxy is moving even faster than that, and so on, ad infinitum. It seems to me that the "natural world" explained by science is perfectly coherent when using what you might call a "normal" lens. But from God's "wide-angle" view, space and time exist within a much larger context, the context of infinity and transcendance.

Finally, there is the tiny problem of God explaining that to us. Let's not forget that the Genesis account was written down some 3500 years ago. Bronze-Age man wouldn't have had the tools, linguistic or scientific, to explain things as I might like. And we ultra-modern people don't have adequate tools to describe the infinite, either. So I'm fine with God giving us what we can handle. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Good enough for me. I don't worry too much about "young-earth" or "old-earth" creationism, or whether there were dinosaurs on Noah's ark. I'm fine with taking on faith both that God is the creator and first cause, and also that, relative to His completed creation, the rules of science apply (except, of course, where He intervenes miraculously, in which case all bets are off).

All that said, if my only two choices were a 100% acceptance of the modern scientific view (this is all a big cosmic accident) or 100% acceptance of the most closed-minded fundamentalist view (168 total 60-minute hours, 6000-year-old earth), I would have to take the one with God involved--He has earned my trust. But I'll make you a deal. You can do anything you personally like with interpreting Genesis and Revelation, and I won't make a peep. Call them myth or metaphor. But those 64 books in the middle, and especially the part about Jesus... that's a hill to die on.

6 comments:

Tommy B. said...

Well said, I'm with you 100% on this one. Adam being created as a full grown man has always given me a reason to beleive that God COULD have created a universe with the appearance of age. A six thousand year old Earth that looks like 6 billion? Why not.

When or if the day comes to die on that hill, I'll be right there with ya...

super Hubby said...

Preach it brother!!

Coach Sal said...

Thanks, guys. 6 billion people on this planet, apparently half or more are online, and who are the only two reading my blog? My brothers-in-law!

And for what it's worth, Tommy, I would say that the way I see it, God didn't create a universe with the APPEARANCE of age, He created a universe (and a man, etc.) WITH AGE. If you or I, who inhabit time, were to doctor a painting to make it look old, that would be fraud. But God, who is bigger than time, isn't trying to trick anybody. He created a full-grown world--if I'm putting it right, that's not what it looks like, it's what it really is. So our world really IS billions of years old, from our human perspective. Every time I try to wrap my little brain around the infinite, I have this same problem. It's like trying to play Mozart on a kazoo; the instrument isn't up to the job.

Big Momma said...

Big Momma says: Isn't it amazing that I have had this same type discussion over and over with MY age-group with the same arguments on both sides?? It is hard to imagine why anyone would presume to try to explain what has already been explained and passed down through the ages. It seems that the older this world gets the more recent generations are dumbing down into disbelief of all things not understood in pixels and megabytes. That is really very sad when all is said and done. To whom and for whom do they pray - or do they pray?? On whom do they rely when nobody here on earth wants to get involved? Do they really know to whom to give the greatest thanks? Are all Christian holy days (yes, holidays/holy days) reduce to merely commercial and consumer opportunities? Sadly, that seems to be the case.
I think I'll stop going on and on as I am wont to do about things of which I am passionate. I do, however want to thank both my children for the very special gift of a 365 Day Bible of my own. I actually look forward each morning to my reading. In fact, I usually want to continue reading!

Tommy B. said...

Yes, I agree that it is more than just the "appearance" of age but that it is actually aged. I should have expressed myself differently there. I also agree that God would not try to trick anyone. Good clarification!

Tommy B. said...

And who besides your two brothers-in-law are really all that important anyway? Come on Coach Sal, get with the program here...