Science, Creation and the Bible
Understanding the Genesis creation story
As Christians a basic and essential article of our faith is that we believe that God has not remained silent but has revealed himself to his creatures. God’s revelation, we believe, appears in nature that he spoke into being by his word, in the living Word Christ Jesus our Lord, and in the written word, the Scriptures given through prophets and apostles. Further, we believe God’s word is one, so that these three are one revelation, and not contradictory or confused. The Father has not revealed one thing in his Son, another in his Creation and a third in the Bible so that we must somehow pick and choose among a series of mutually exclusive claims, conflicting ideas, or contradictory doctrines. Creation, Scripture, and Christ do not go against one another in their revelation of God, for one God, Father, Son, and Spirit has revealed himself in all three.
I have no data to back this up, but I suspect that more than a few non-Christians might have difficulty believing we actually believe that. I think we give them good reasons to doubt our claim, especially when it comes to reconciling what is revealed in nature and in the Scriptures, in the claims of science and a theology of creation.
In 1988 the evangelical theologian John Stott engaged in a thoughtful exchange of ideas with David Edwards, a liberal theologian in Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (Hodder & Stoughton). In the process of their discussion Stott made an important point about God’s word in creation and Scripture:
Nature and Scripture are both divine revelation (“general and special,” “natural and supernatural,” to use the traditional terms), since God has revealed himself both in the world he has made and in Christ and the biblical witness to Christ. Science is the fallible human interpretation of nature, while theology (or “tradition,” which is theological reflection) is the fallible human interpretation of Scripture. You and I believe (I think) that in nature and Scripture there are certain given things, data (although they relate to largely different spheres), which, if they truly come from God, cannot contradict one another. The contradictions have not been between nature and Scripture, but between science and theology, that is, between different human interpretations of God’s double revelation. If, therefore, we are to learn lessons from the past, it is neither for conservatives to deny the evidence of nature, nor for liberals to deny the evidence of Scripture, but for all of us to re-examine our interpretations of both.
It is necessary, Stott says, for Christians to “re-examine our interpretations of both.” I believe that to be true, but it is a proposal fraught with difficulty. Some evangelicals resist the notion altogether and see any re-examination as the first step towards liberalism or in allowing the latest theories of unbelieving scientists to overturn the instruction of God’s word. It is one thing to be aware of the dangers of thinking wrongly, but it is another thing to allow those dangers to keep us from thinking rightly. We must not do that—the refusal to seek the truth is a repudiation of following Christ, who claimed to be nothing less than truth incarnated (John 14:6). Rather than fear the search for truth we will find, as Jesus promised, that in the truth we discover the freedom God has always intended for us (John 8:32).
The work of careful scholars—scientists and theologians—can help us in our task. And in Science, Creation and the Bible we find just such help. The authors are Richard Carlson (physics professor at the University of Redlands) and Tremper Longman III (biblical studies professor at Westmont College). You may not agree with all they write, but they what they write is important to consider with care. Carlson and Longman are committed to truth, believing as I do that all truth is God’s truth. But I should let them speak for themselves:
We profess our deep commitment to Christian faith and the biblical teaching about creation. At the same time, we believe contemporary science addresses questions on how physical and biological processes began and continue to develop, while theology and philosophy answer why for the same questions. The creation-evolution conflict hinges on two issues: (1) the question of the trustworthiness of contemporary scientific understanding of the beginnings of the universe, the earth and life on the earth, and (2) the question of the faithful reading of the two creation passages in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25 in their literal or nonliteral forms.
Why would such a long-standing conflict concern us? First, our purpose is to encourage all Christians to ground their theological and scientific beliefs in an impartial search for truth. Second, we want to remove false barriers that discourage non-Christians from considering the Christian gospel. We want to attempt to present an accurate description of both the scientific and the theological enterprises, including suggestions for a systematic reading of the Bible. Above all, we hope to suggest a way to resolve the creation-evolution conflict and bring conciliation between scientific and spiritual truths that underlie faith. To that end we propose the following thesis:
The first two chapters of Genesis, which accurately present two accounts of creation in terms of ancient Hebrew scientific observations and their historical understanding, are neither historical nor scientific in the twenty-first-century literal sense. Instead, the underlying message of these chapters applies for all time and constitutes a complete statement of the worldview of the Hebrew people in the ancient Near East. They accurately understood the universe in terms of why God created it but not how in the modern scientific and historical sense. This worldview, markedly different from those of their pagan neighbors, articulates the principles underlying their understanding of the relation of God to the universe, their relation to the true God, and their relation to each other and to the created order.
Science, Creation and the Bible is accessible to the lay reader, and short enough that even those unwilling to wade through long arguments on this topic can find the book helpful. Carlson and Longman develop the case for their conclusions clearly, allowing the reader to see each step of their thinking. They go back to basics in both science and theology, identify the assumptions they are making, and due to their shared scholarship can speak authoritatively about both science and biblical interpretation. I recommend Science, Creation and the Bible to you.
SourceEssentials by John R. W. Stott, page 335.
Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2010) 144 pages.