Genesis and Science

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Genesis. The word has weight, a certain air. It has a majesty that has not yet been overtaken by overuse. It has not lost its meaning as have “awesome” and many other previously serious words. It is a word that comes to us from the Greek language almost unchanged, both in spelling and in its definition. Genesis, in the original Greek refers to beginnings; where something starts.

To those of us who are of the Christian tradition, we also know Genesis as the first book of the Bible. It tells the creation story, of the universe, as well as Man himself and the beginnings of human history. It starts with God’s creation of the universe and ends with the burial of a man that circumstance, that God,  used in fateful ways.

Genesis is literature and it has so very many stories that are woven into our Western culture. These stories out of Genesis have been a part of us for so long that even those who reject the West and Christian culture know them. They have both formed us and informed us so deeply that our very ways of thinking flow in channels carved out by Genesis.

Genesis can be divided into two parts. The first part, Chapters 1-11, is about God’s creation of the Universe and human prehistory. It tells of Man in the time of myth. It speaks of first things and beginnings. It speaks of how things came to be as they are. The second part, Chapters 12-50, tell the story of the Jews and how they came to be a separate and unique people.

Genesis is foundational to our culture. But as anything that deeply woven into us, it cannot be easily talked about. To talk about Genesis is to talk about what we believe, who we are and what we hold dear. Without even knowing it, our beliefs about Genesis open our deepest foundations of belief to challenge. To talk about Genesis opens us up so that others know who we are. We are vulnerable at the very core of our being.

Before the Renaissance, it was simpler to deal with Genesis. At least in the West, the Catholic Church held sway and Scripture was accessible in only bits and pieces to all but a few. Belief in the stories within Genesis were unchallenged, either by philosophy or common sense. But as the Renaissance turned into the Reformation, in turn followed by the Enlightenment, that certainty about Genesis began to crumble. The Renaissance rediscovered the learning of classical Greece and Rome, which presented the West with a reasoned interpretation of the world without the influence of Christian teaching. This new point of view cracked a comfortable and stagnant worldview that had been the exclusive domain of the increasingly corrupt Catholic Church of the time.

Further on in time, the Protestant Reformation shattered the prevailing interpretation of Scripture by both destroying the monopoly of Catholicism in the West and allowing the Bible to be read by common people. Because of the new schism within the church, everything said about the Bible by the Catholic Church was now open to question and given the past history of those looking, the old truths were looked at with great skepticism. And as had the Jews at the time of Jesus, it turned out that the Catholic Church had said many things that were not supported by what was in Scripture.

As the Enlightenment dawned, Western man began to look at his world critically and the sciences were born. From Archeology through Zoology, they all examined their world and spoke of what they had found. They put forward theories of how those findings fit together. These theories and findings of Science spoke of the same things that Genesis did, i.e. how the universe came to be and man’s place in it. As theories and findings built upon one another over time, Science could be seen as challenging what the Church, both Catholic and Protestant, said about those same things.

The 19th and 20th centuries brought what remained of our culture’s simple faith in Genesis to a crisis point. Science, and it’s less beautiful sister Engineering, delivered unimaginable benefits to the world. Everyone’s life changed in unmistakable and dramatic ways. Those changes, measured in material terms, were unmistakably for the better, orders of magnitude better. The worldview represented by Science and Engineering was unquestioned and swept all before it. Science and Engineering had performed miracles; to question their interpretations of reality was the work of fools.

At the same time, the Church lost its way. First the Germans and then the rest of Western Civilization declared that God was dead. It was not the scientists, but the theologians, that were saying these things. Theology retreated from engagement with the world and lost itself in contemplation of its navel. Having lost in the competition to fashion our culture’s worldview, thinkers in the Church moved to questions of ethics and social justice. No longer relevant in the hard sciences, Theology moved to the murky swamp of the “social sciences”. It seemed for a time that those who declared God dead were right.

But as always, God brought about a revival in his Church with the rise of the Evangelical movement. Redeeming faith in salvation through Christ Jesus with an intense focus on the New Testament was, and is, the central message of the Evangelicals. Evangelical fire has changed the global landscape. Focusing on Scripture, on the promise of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice, the Evangelical movement has engaged the world and revitalized the Church, both Protestant and Catholic. The Church is no longer a shrinking realm defending old borders, but is striding confidently into the world and preaching the Gospel.

But what about the Book of Genesis? Science tells us that the Universe was created 14 billion years ago and that mankind descended from monkeys by the process of evolution. Various strains of the Evangelical Church say that the Universe was created some 6,000 years ago ex nihilo, that Man was created without antecedent and that evolution is a Satan inspired delusion. The Church as a whole and Theology, even as a serious academic study, does its best to simply tiptoe past the subject. In no uncertain words, when it comes to Genesis we whistle past the graveyard, fearful of what we might disturb.

There is an uneasy standoff in our culture between Genesis and Science.  The situation is reminiscent of the Armed Forces past policy of “Don’t ask – Don’t tell”. Many of us, including myself, live in both worlds with trust in both. As for me, I have worked as an engineer for 40 years and feel my life a testament to the validity of Science. As a “born again” Christian, I have reached out and touched the nail scarred hand. There is no doubt about the truth of Scripture in me.

But how do I square Genesis with Science? It seems to be an up or down decision, no gray areas to hide in or wallowing in ambiguity allowed. Either Genesis with its age of the Universe at 6,000+ years is right or the Universe is billions of years old and Genesis is wrong.

I am aware of the arguments that are made about the length of day for God, allegorical meanings and dinosaurs existing at the same time as men. To be honest, as a Christian, I find them just a little bit embarrassing. To my mind, they have little credibility and that they find great value in demolishing straw men. Those arguments simply seem to be artful disguise to smooth over what appears to be a stark choice.

Thus I am left with paradox. The idea that Genesis may be wrong in some of its text is untenable. If any part of the Bible is wrong, then the entire Bible is possibly in error and any part or all can be called into question with impunity. Genesis is either correct in what it says, or my salvation thru Christ’s death for my sins is in question. To think otherwise is willful foolishness.

But while we equate Science with fact and Scripture with faith, perhaps it is time to dig deeper. As we dig, let us look more closely, perhaps there is more faith in Science than we think. We are products of our environment, our culture. Our culture gives us a way of thinking and understanding our reality, our life. Much of this background is what we call “common sense”.

Perhaps it is time to examine our common sense, the water in which we exist. A good friend of mine tells the story of a contented housecat lazily watching goldfish swim in a bowl. The cat, as cats do, walks over and tail twitching, stares at the goldfish within the bowl. Reaching out with claws extended, the cat puts his paw into the open bowl top and delicately touches the water. Jerking it back, the cat looks at the fish and asks, “How do you live in water?” The largest of the goldfish swings around to face the cat in puzzlement and answers, “What water?”

Our culture because of its great and positive experience with the fruits of Science, does not question the truth or validity of Science. It is our water; it is our common sense. We live in a world where lights come on when we flip a switch. We talk with people thousands of miles away and watch other realities on room size screens. Our world is full of magic; courtesy of Science. But Science is not just amazing technology. Science is an edifice of thought, a coherent set of beliefs, just as is Theology. The coherence of those beliefs is the foundation of Science. Those beliefs are assumptions about the physical universe. Perhaps a moment’s reflection on some of those great foundation blocks of Science may be enlightening.

The absolute bedrock of the physical sciences (Science) is the Laws of Thermodynamics. All of Science is based upon those Laws of Thermodynamics being true in all cases. Just as the foundational truths of Scripture must be true in all cases, so too must those of Science. And in fact, no one has yet discovered any actual or credible theoretical instance in which they are not true.

But consider, The 1st Law of Thermodynamics states that: “energy or matter can neither be created or destroyed”. This can be expressed as easily as the 1+1=2 that we learn in grade school. It is fundamental. We can see the inherent rightness of it as schoolchildren when we learn basic arithmetic. It is common sense.

And yet as any moderately perceptive high school student can easily see, it is wrong. Since the Universe exists, matter and energy were both created at some point in time, else there would be no Universe. Science is , at its foundation, obviously built on a false assumption. Science finesses the paradox by postulating a “Big Bang”, in which all matter and energy in the Universe come from somewhere else into this Universe. One might observe that in terms of creation, the “Big Bang” is simply kicking the can down the road. One might say they are simply whistling past the graveyard.

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that: “systems proceed from order to disorder”. Another way to think of it is that the Universe becomes more random or chaotic all the time. To illustrate, take a deck of cards sorted by number and suit. Toss the deck in the air and pick the cards up. The cards will no longer be in order. All physical processes in the Universe are observed to follow this Law.

And yet the “Big Bang” begins the Universe as ultimate chaos. It is a mass of undifferentiated energy; energy that over a period of time condenses into matter and sorts itself into the ordered Universe that we know today. It would seem that the Second Law also has some significant loopholes.

Science has a number of other large cracks in its foundations besides the issues surrounding the Laws of Thermodynamics. If Science’s understanding of the Universe is correct, then nearly the entire Universe is made up of “dark matter” and “dark energy”. “Dark matter” and “dark energy” are so named because they are made up of energy and matter that cannot be seen, detected or interact with the physical universe. It might be said that most of the Universe is made up of ghosts. Hmmmm.

Continuing on another front. Quantum Theory is a fundamental description of the Universe and how it works. Quantum has a long list of physical proofs as to its validity and every time you turn on a computer, you see it work. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is a fundamental description of the Universe as well and has been proven multiple times. Modern observational astronomy proves it daily. But if Quantum Mechanics is correct, Relativity is fundamentally wrong and cannot possibly be valid. But if Relativity is valid, then Quantum Theory is so much hokum.

These paradoxes within Science may seem to be no big deal and of no concern to us as we live our daily lives. But just as error in Genesis calls into question the entire Bible, does not fundamental error in Science call the entire edifice of Science into question?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not making the case for Science being wrong or trying to make sport of scientists. It is simply to say that Science is as dependent upon faith as is Scripture. Scientists are people of good will attempting to make sense of the Universe. They know that there are many things about Science that is confusing, contradictory or simply wrong. But they go forward on faith that it is true. In fact, it is wrong to say that Science and Genesis are mutually exclusive. There need be no conflict other than that disagreement by men brought about in honest searching.

But to say that Science is hard cold reality based on proven and provable fact, as our culture’s common sense offers, is to go too far. To say that Science has proven Genesis wrong is indeed a bridge too far. One might as easily say that one chooses to worship Baal rather than Yahweh, it is simply faith in another god. When faced with first things and ultimate realities, Science is faith based no less than is Genesis.

Paraphrasing Wikipedia, the “Big Bang” or the beginning is described as:

 “A singularity filled the Universe homogeneously and isotropically with an incredibly high energy density”

According to Genesis, the beginning is described as:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Gen. 1:1  NIV

You choose.

Understand that in both cases you are making your choice based on faith. To think that men can understand or explain this incredible Universe that we live in is undeniably an act of hubris. That is not to say that we shouldn’t try; simply to understand that at the end of the day, our belief is based on faith. Whether that faith is explicit, as in Scripture, or implicit as in Science, we live our lives on faith.

—  A.Bracer

2 Responses to “Genesis and Science”

  1. Mike Brinkmeyer says:

    Have you read “The Genesis Question” by Hugh Ross? It’s a great expose on creation.

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