Genesis 1-12:3 “The First Things” (Genesis and Science) Part 1

Introduction to the “First Things”: Genesis and Science

For centuries the opening chapters of Genesis have provided a battleground on which the church and science have viciously fought. There was a time when the church persecuted those who believed that the earth circled the sun. The church, based on teachings from the Bible, maintained that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun, planets, and stars circled the earth. To believe otherwise was heresy. And, of course, in our time angry debates continue over the supposed conflict between the Genesis 1-3 account of creation and the scientific theories surrounding evolution. In northern Kentucky there is a Creation Museum defending the way it believes Genesis 1-3 describes creation. Perhaps some of you have visited it. I believe the museum is a sham—it’s based on pseudo-science and very warped and ignorant interpretations of the Bible. Let me also say that I firmly believe that God created the universe. I also believe that God created the universe through a process called evolution, though I will not take up our time giving all the evidence for this assertion since our purpose is to discover the intent and message of the opening chapters of the Bible.

Suffice it to say that those who seek to use Genesis to challenge science are barking up the wrong tree. The Bible is not a science book. Those who wrote the Bible understood the world in ways particular to their time. When you think about it, that’s the only way they could understand the universe. We understand the world in ways that make sense in our time, although most of us are about 80 years behind science in our knowledge. With Einstein’s theories of relativity and the discovery of quantum physics, the universe is a lot more bizarre, mysterious, and contradictory than any of us can imagine. But my point is that each generation understands the world in the context of the science of its own time. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, and John thought the world was flat, the center of the universe, circled by the sun, surrounded by water, and vaulted by a celestial ceiling. They thought that way because that’s the way the world looked and seemed to behave. And they wrote their books of the Bible with that understanding in mind.

Today we know that the earth is not flat, is not the center of the universe, is not circled by the sun, is not surrounded by water, and is not vaulted by a celestial ceiling. The “science” of Genesis 1-3 dates from that time and is primitive compared to what we know today. But if humanity survives another 500 years what we know today will be considered primitive and naïve by our distant descendants. We think we know a lot about the universe–and we do compared to what people like Abraham and Paul knew 3-4 thousand years ago. But we have just scratched the surface of what can be known through science about our world. For example, we know more about the surface of the moon than we know about the surface of the oceans’ floors on our own planet. And we know precious little about the larger universe itself. Another example: in very recent years scientists have discovered what they call “dark matter” and “dark energy.” They posit that dark matter exists because the galaxies hold together in clusters, but the gravitational force of ordinary matter is not strong enough to make this happen. Therefore, scientists say, there has to be some other kind of matter we don’t see which allows for galaxies to cluster together. Dark energy was discovered in a similar way. We know that our universe is expanding at an accelerating pace. The Big Bang at the beginning of creation can account for the expansion but not for the acceleration. Our universe is not slowing down—it keeps going faster and faster. So, some other force must be behind this accelerated expansion. And scientists call this force dark energy. Now guess how much of the universe scientists estimate is made up of dark matter and dark energy? 95%! (dark matter = 25%, dark energy = 70%) Ordinary matter and energy as we know them, see them and can measure them make up only 5% of the universe! We know virtually nothing about the remaining 95% of the universe (other than that they comprise 95% of the universe). So obviously dark matter and dark energy have qualities that are radically different from any matter or energy we can see or measure.

All this is presented to help us see that as great as our scientific understanding of the universe may be today, it is still in its infant stage. We can’t even begin to imagine what that understanding will be 500 years from now. So, let’s say that God had Genesis written in such a way that it reflects exactly the way the universe was made and currently operates. If that were true, do you realize that not only would the people of that time be lost in understanding what was written—so would we.

The Bible is not a science book. It is a book of faith—it is a book about a certain people’s understanding and experiences of God and the ways of God. If you want to know how, what, when, and where about the universe, you must look to science. The Bible is not equipped and was never intended to provide that kind of information. But if you want to know the why regarding the universe, the Bible is a rich source of wisdom. Now by “why,” I don’t mean the cause of something. For example, we might ask, “Why do we have seasons?” There we are asking the cause. We have seasons because of the tilt of the earth as it faces the sun. So, by “why” I am not referring to what we might call “cause and effect.” By “why” I am talking about purpose, intention, and the ultimate cause of everything that exists. Science is totally incapable of answering those questions because science can only pursue questions that it can measure.

Let me explain more why that is the case. All scientists are ultimately guided by what is called the scientific method. The scientific method demands that facts be replicated. In other words, as a scientist you must be able to demonstrate in some tangible way that what you are proposing is so, and you must provide the experiment or the evidence that other scientists can use to obtain the same result. The scientific method is based on observation and experimentation. In light of those observations and experiments, scientists propose hypotheses which are educated guesses or speculations as to why things are so. After a period of study, further observation, and experimentation done over and over again with the same result, scientists come up with a theory which remains the best explanation for whatever is being studied as long as the theory continues to prove to be valid. Once it is disproven, the theory is trashed and other hypotheses are sought. Let’s say that you are a researcher and you claim you have discovered a cure for cancer. All your evidence, all your data, all your experiments must be made available to other scientists. If they can overwhelmingly duplicate your results using your methods, then you can claim to have discovered a cure for cancer. If they can’t duplicate your results, then something was bogus about your research. That’s the way science works. It is always correcting itself. A theory works only as long as it makes sense and explains the facts as we know them. That’s why science is always changing.

From all this you see that science builds truth from the bottom up. Through experiments, measurements, and a host of other verifiable methods, science climbs the ladder of scientific truth. Building blocks of earlier discoveries are used for new discoveries. By necessity, science must start from the bottom and move up. Even if a scientist imagines some fantastic theory, she still must prove it in the lab or through measurements that any other competent scientist can duplicate.

Now do you see what all this says about the question of God? If there is a God who created the universe, we can surmise that this God transcends the universe. God is more than this universe and is the ultimate source of all that is. If God transcends the universe, God will always be more than any scientist or any other part of this universe can ever comprehend. That’s why science is not equipped to answer the God question. We can’t put God under a microscope, or in a test tube, or in a lab. We can’t measure the dimensions of God. We start from the bottom in our search for truth, building on our previous knowledge and experience. But God, if there is a God who has created and transcends this universe, is above and beyond any effort on our part to capture in a provable formula. Science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, and all scientists who understand the scientific method admit that. What some of them are saying is that there are mysteries behind and beyond this universe which are intriguing and perhaps suggestive. Perhaps there is a God—a grand design behind all this, but that is beyond the realm of science to investigate, much less pontificate.

In some extreme cases there are scientists who have forgotten these limitations of science. They assume that only what can be observed, measured and proven is real. If it can’t be observed, measured, or proven, then it does not exist. That’s called scientific positivism. Positivists assume that all true knowledge is scientific in that you can prove it by the scientific method. You can’t prove or measure God, so God does not exist. But the scientific method by definition states that science is not able to make judgments about those things beyond its scope and competency. About such things it must remain silent with no more right to an opinion than any of the rest of us.

The one question science cannot answer is the question of “Why” in the sense of purpose, intention, and ultimate cause. It can tell us how the universe works as far as scientists currently understand. It can tell us how old the universe is. It can measure the distance between planets, stars, and galaxies. It can tell us the chemical make-up of matter including our bodies. But it can’t tell us why we are here. It can’t tell us the ultimate purpose of the universe. It can’t tell us if there is anything after death. It can’t tell us if there is a God or what kind of God may be behind everything that exists. It can’t tell us if our little lives matter in the larger scheme of things. It can’t even tell us why we do things, why we love, or why we wonder about life and creation.

But the question “Why?” is the most important question of all. It is the question which makes us human. It is the question that allows us to investigate our purpose. It is the question which gives dignity to our humanity. It is the question which makes life worth living. Let’s be honest. If there is no “why” to the existence of the universe or to our own individual lives, then we and everything else are a cosmic accident—a tragic cosmic accident. Now some people say that we need to face the fact that this is precisely the way things are. There is no purpose/no God/no goal/no meaning. This is a cold, indifferent, unfeeling, and uncaring universe that has just happened by accident. Writers like Sartre and Camus wrote novels with that basic message. We can’t prove there is a God, so there is no God and no real purpose to life. There are those who live by that creed. But inevitably they come to the conclusion that life under those circumstances is tragic and filled with despair.

Now we can’t prove they are wrong because we can’t prove there is a God. No one can. But neither can they prove there is no God and no ultimate purpose for our lives and the universe as a whole. Faith is a wager that there is a God, and the Christian faith is a wager that that God is like Jesus. We can’t prove God, but we can give some mighty good arguments for the existence of God—as good or, in my opinion, better than the arguments of those who deny God.

So how might Genesis 1-11 be helpful at this point? Those opening chapters tell us that the ultimate origin of the universe is God. God created the heavens and the earth. How? The Bible gives symbolic answers appropriate for its time. Today if the writers of the Bible were giving an account, they would say that God created through a process involving billions of years and some form of evolution. What matters is not the how but the why. Genesis says that God created the universe for love, companionship, life, mutuality, self-realization, joy, rest, work, beauty, and pleasure. We are here for good reasons. As Shug says in The Color Purple, “God’s just wanting to share a good thing!”

We will go more into all this when we get into the biblical texts of Genesis 1:1-12:3, but for today I want us to appreciate this foundational statement of faith– God created the heavens and the earth. What are some of the implications from such a belief?

*We are not here by accident. We are here for a purpose. There is a Power and a Presence beyond time and space who has willed our existence, who knows we are here, and who has a vested interest in what happens to us.

*With such a faith, there is no place for ultimate despair. If there is a “Why” to all this, then there is meaning to our lives. We matter in eternal ways. We are not alone.

*We are part of a grander experiment involving all creation. We are just part of the story, but we are a real and vital part of that story.

*If God created the heavens and the earth, they belong to God and creation is good. Ultimately everything in creation including ourselves belongs to God. And that implies a responsibility, a relationship, and a mutual respect for each other and for the whole of creation. Human beings as well as the rest of creation are not just material items to be used, abused, and discarded. They are marked by their Creator’s hand and are given a sacred identity because of their ultimate source.

*There is not only a meaning behind our being here. There is also a goal–a destination–a larger purpose. Genesis 1-2:4a expresses this through the concept of Sabbath. Sabbath is the ultimate goal of creation—that time and space when God and God’s creation rest in each other in joy, love, and fullness of life.

We shall deal with these concepts and many more once we get into the biblical texts, but for now I want us to see this basic meaning behind these ancient stories. We are here for a reason. We are not here by accident. We have been created by a Creator who has a purpose larger than any of us can ever imagine. We matter because we are stamped in the very image of God. That’s not a bad way to begin our look at these chapters. Just to know that is enough—more than enough–giving us hope, dignity, and purpose to reach out and embrace life in all its glory and potential.

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