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Needless opposition: The Bible and Science

August 8, 2013

Physician, heal thyself

In a previous post, I said that each person holds a collection of ideas about life, the universe and everything. These ideas come together to form their overall view of the world, in the same way that tiles come together to form a mosaic. I argued that, to effectively defend and proclaim the gospel (humanly speaking), we need to think about people’s ideas, critique them and present better mosaics.

However, before we critique other’s mosaics, we should first examine our own. And one point where many Christian’s mosaics may be in need of correction is in the intersection of the creation account and science.

(If I’m going to alienate half my readership, I might as well do it early on. This is a long post, so “gird your loins.”)

The conflict

(I won’t be analysing this video – it’s just hear to get you thinking.)

“Science has proven,” some Non-Christians say, “that all the things we can see today came about in a certain way – in a way that is different to what the Bible says. If I had to choose between the evidence I can see with my eyes and touch with my hands, and the theories of some guy how-many-thousands of years ago, I’ll stick with the former, thanks.”

Now, there are many holes in the above logic, as one would expect from a straw man. But this is not an article to pick apart every part of the above argument – this article is about us Christians.

My issue is this: I think that most of the effort Christians spend in arguing against scientific theories is wasted effort, because most scientific theories don’t (have to) contradict the Bible in the first place.

Or, to put it more bluntly: We have read the Bible badly, and it doesn’t have to contradict the science.

Points of contention

For shorthand, I will be using “science” to refer to “the consensus among the scientific community.”

When Christians disagree with science, they generally disagree on these three:

  1. Science contradicts the timing and sequence of creation to Genesis 1.
  2. Science casts doubt on the existence of Adam, who has to exist for key doctrines to be true, such as those found in Romans 5.
  3. Science says that species evolved from one another, which requires death to exist before sin. This is contradicted by Genesis 3 and Romans 5.

I think all of these disagreements are due to misunderstanding science and/or misreading the Bible – I will deal with both Genesis and Romans below.

Reading Genesis better

The verse nobody reads

Genesis 1:1-2:3 says that the universe was made in 6 days, with God resting on the seventh day. But no-one reads Genesis 2:4 – at least, not in an essentially literal translation like the one below:

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. (Genesis 2:4 ESV)

In how many days did God make the universe, according to Genesis 2:4? One.

(Before you crack open your NIV: I checked the Hebrew, and Genesis 2:4 does use the word “day.”)

Are we meant to read Genesis 2:4 in contradiction to Genesis 1:1-2:3? Of course not! It’s not like the writer of Genesis would have forgotten what he wrote just a handful of verses earlier!

There has been a trend for Christians who want to synthesise Genesis with science (whom I’ll call “sythesists”) to say that “day” means “an indeterminate time that may actually be millions of years.” Christians who argue for a literally-six-24-hour-days reading of Genesis 1-2 (“literalists”) will argue that “day” (Hebrew: yom) is not used to refer to “an indeterminate time that may actually be millions of years.”

There are obvious problems the the synthesist’s idea that we can give “day” whatever meaning we like. However, literalist’s idea is not much better, given that it breaches one of the primary rules of Bible reading: read a word or verse in its literary context to understand what it means. Given that “day” does indeed have a rubbery meaning in Genesis, and in at least one point does not mean “24 hours,” the “timing” objection in point 1 above seems to be moot.

The structure of Genesis 1-2

Below is a chart of the things that are created in Genesis 1.

Order of Creation

You are most likely familiar with it being read top-to-bottom. But what do you notice if you read it left-to-right?

Genesis 1 actually comes in two sets of three days, with each day corresponding to a day in the other. In effect, the the things that God made on the first three days find their fulfilment in the things made in the second three days.

  • So, on day 1, God makes light, day and night. Then, on day 4, he makes the things that give light and the lights that mark the day and night.
  • On day 2, God makes the sea and sky. Then, on day 5, he makes the things that fill the sea and sky.
  • On day 3, God makes land, plants and trees. Then on day 6, he makes the things that fill the land and eat from the plants and trees. He even makes the animals (including humans) in the same sequence  he made their corresponding food!

What other kind of writing has structures like this? Poetry.

To be fair, Genesis 1 isn’t strictly poetry. But these structures indicate that it isn’t historical narrative, either. This is another reason why the timing of Genesis 1-2 shouldn’t be read like the literalists do, and shows that the sequence of the creation account does not necessarily correlate with the sequence of history: the purpose of Genesis 1 isn’t to say the timing and sequence in which things happened, but to say that God is a God of order, with a plan and a purpose, and he brings those purposes to fulfilment. (If you were explaining this to a non-Christian, now would be a great time to bring in the great purpose and fulfilment of all creation: Jesus Christ.)

On Adam

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgement following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:12-21)

The thrust of the above passage is this: Adam was the first man. He failed to obey God, so sin entered the world. All people who come after him follow after him in sin – he is the “head” of our “family” and we can’t shake the “family trait” – so all mankind (save Jesus) deserve condemnation and death from God.  But Jesus is a new “head.” If we come under him then we are made righteous, no longer under a death sentence, but given the hope of eternal life.

The literalist’s argument goes: If Jesus has to be real for our salvation to be real, then Adam must be real for our initial fallen state to be real. So, in reverse, if Adam is not real, then neither is our salvation. Science says that there was no real, historical Adam, so it must be false.

My first response is, why? Why would an allegorical Adam suddenly invalidate salvation wrought in Christ? After all, in Romans 1, we read that all people are under God’s judgement due to their own thoughts and actions – independently, so to speak, of Adam:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. (Romans 1:18-25)

So, if sin can be thought of independently of Adam’s headship, much more can Christ’s salvation be independent of Adam.

My second response is, how? How does science say that there was no Adam? Take the colour spectrum:

Colour spectrum

The spectrum gives a smooth transition from red to violet, through all the other colours. Now, the existence of the smooth transition between colours does not preclude the fact that there are colours. Red is different to yellow, which is different to green, which is different to blue, etc. We may argue about where the divisions should fall, but the divisions still exist.

The colour model, though is admittedly a human construct. Nevertheless, parallel to colour theory, in the theory of evolution, there must have been a point at which something not-quite-human became something actually human. There can be no other way. We might not be able to pinpoint exactly when and where the bright dividing line between inhuman and human should fall but, as with colours, there is still a distinction between one thing and another. If we are to hold that both the Bible and science can be true we can say that there was a first man, at some point, and that first man rejected his creator – this, I believe, fits with both the theology of the Bible and the theory of human evolution.

Created mortal

Finally, literalists argue that Romans 5 says that death entered the world through sin. Therefore, death could not have existed before Adam sinned – or even before Adam. Evolution, meanwhile – under “the survival of the fittest” model – requires death; it requires animals to mutate to survive, or perish, and those that survive eventually mutate enough to become new species. Thus, the two are in contradiction.

But this argument stems from a failure to read the Bible carefully. Look again at to whom death comes. Because of Adam’s sin, death spreads to all men because all sin. Non-humans aren’t mentioned anywhere in Romans 5. They’re not the concern of Romans 5 at all!

This is further backed by Genesis 1-3. The curse upon Adam is that he shall die:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it’,
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-18)

But how is this curse enacted?

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live for ever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23)

Had mankind eaten from the tree of life, it would have lived forever. So, in Genesis, death comes eventually to mankind because it cannot eat from the tree of life. In other words, mankind is created mortal, and would remain mortal without God’s provision; without God’s provision, mankind dies.

This is further proven by 1 Corinthians 15. This passage explains that we were created perishable and mortal; to inherit the kingdom of God, we must put on the imperishable and immortal image of Christ – we must be changed from our created, mortal bodies to newly created, immortal bodies.

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:49-53)

Remember back to Genesis 1 – who gets to eat from the trees in the Garden of Eden?

And God said, “Behold, I have given you [mankind] every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:29-30)

So, humanity, not anything else in all creation, got the privilege of access to the tree of life. So, then, we could expect that, in the original creation, even before sin, animals could die. So, there is no contradiction here between the Bible and “survival of the fittest” evolution.

Why does all this matter?

We Christians hold ourselves as people who have been entrusted with a message of truth. Science, when done well, is a tool for investigating and discovering truths about creation. We should disagree with the scientific consensus if it contradicts the truths God reveals, but we should also take care not to come to false conclusions about what either God or science have said. If we close our minds to the ideas of others, why should we expect others to entertain our own ideas?

But, if we show that we respect reason, we may find that people will listen to the reason for the hope that we have.

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