Posted for Pentecost at the Bearing Witness community on Livejournal
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Creationists will tell you that Genesis says that the world and all within it was created in seven days. Some of them will tell you that it was created specifically in 4004 BC, following the Ussher chronology
. They hate the very concept of evolution, seeing it as a denial of God.
Some atheists will tell you that the evidence for evolution is all around us, and thus anyone who believes in God is a fool, because the Bible is clearly a lie.
They have both fallen into the same trap -- literalism.
The Bible is not a single book. It is a collection of works by multiple authors, written in different places over many, many years, edited, re-edited, and translated through multiple languages. Those works include history written by the winners, history written by the losers, genealogical data, poetry, philosophical musings, just-so stories, and mythology. Yes, mythology.
"Myth" is not an insult or denial. It is a description of a thing which is not literally true, but which nevertheless shows us truth through symbolism. The Bible is filled with myths and fables. Some of them are explicitly labelled as such, for Jesus was a great one for the parable as teaching tool. If you insist on taking every word in the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God, Ur Doin It Rong. Not least because there are multiple contradictions in the Bible.
One set of those contradictions is in Genesis. There are two creation stories, following the same pattern but with different and contradictory details. No problem at all, if you see Genesis as another parable, a (divinely inspired) teaching tool rather than an accurate or even inaccurate historical record.
As it happens, the Christian creation myth is quite a good match for the current scientific understanding of the evolution of the universe, if you read it as allegory rather than history. (Sufficiently so that one Big Name Astronomer campaigned passionately against the Big Bang Theory to his dying day, in part because he was an atheist who felt that it gave too much credence to the notion of a Creator.) That's not really relevant. The job of Genesis is to give us a tool we can use to think about a deep philosophical problem. It's not supposed to be a locked door barring our way.
We have, over the last few thousand years, used the minds God gave us to deepen our understanding and appreciation of God's creation. It is not one tiny, flat world at the centre of a complex piece of clockwork providing a show for our sole benefit a few thousand feet, or perhaps a few thousand miles, up in the sky. It is a vast and ancient universe, with many wonderful things in it besides us. It is giant galaxies and tiny microbes. It is deep time going back at current estimates some 12 to 14 thousand million years for Creation as a whole, and perhaps 4.5 thousand million years just for our own small pebble in the sky. It is certainly not all about us as the pinnacle of Creation. And it is, for now, beyond our complete comprehension. That last can be frightening, but it's also inspiring.
For me, there is a God, and evolution is Its tool. Having a Creation that is 12 aeons old and wide to contemplate in awe and joy as part of appreciating its Creator, yet in fear trying to force it down into the narrow confines of that tiny clockwork toy -- that to me is a sorrow and a burden that should be laid down.
God said, "Let there be light". And there was. And it was, and is, beautiful to behold.
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(Image from JPL Nasa