This is the fourth instalment of my mini-series “Creation, Evolution, and Evangelicalism”. Note that the series is still technically on hold, I just wanted to expand on a couple of things I mentioned in previous posts, namely to do with Genesis chapter 1. All clear? Good! 😉
But first, a clarification: I mentioned in a previous post that I had problems with ‘creationism’. I probably should have been clearer in this post but the particular version of creationism which I have a problem with is ‘young earth creationism’ (which for brevity I shall refer to as YEC from now on): obviously, all Christians are “Creationists” in the sense that we believe God created the world and “the fulness thereof” (a phrase which Mike Ovey is particularly fond of, from the King James version of Psalm 24:1). However, what I am arguing for is that being a ‘creationist’ does not conflict with being an ‘evolutionist’, in the sense that one can believe both in the creative acts of God and the biological process of evolution.
The second thing I’d like to clarify is that I’m not necessarily arguing for evolution in the sense that “I’m a scientist and I believe this to be true”. I think my point is more general, that I believe science and Christianity should never be in conflict: that we can accept what science to be saying, provided that it doesn’t come loaded with any metaphysical connotations (i.e. I don’t believe evolutionism is required by science, despite what people like Dawkins would have you believe. Evolution is a scientific model / biological process, it has no concerns with God.) In other words, if scientists come up with a better theory than evolution (or a more refined version) in the future, I’d be happy to go with that.
That turned out to be a slightly longer clarification than I intended, sorry! – but anyway, what I’d like to talk about in this post is something which is contested by the aforementioned Creationists. I touched on this in my previous post on creationism but I’d like to expand on it now: how are Christians to read Genesis 1?
This is a difficult issue because everyone has a different view on it. I’d like to propose something which I heard mentioned by Rob Bell in ‘Everything is Spiritual’, and which was mentioned again by our lecture in the Old Testament unit we’re doing. It’s called the framework hypothesis, although that’s probably a grander name than it really deserves.
The argument of YECs is that each ‘day’ in Genesis 1 refers to a literal period of 24 hours: apparently this is required by the context.
However there are issues with this – as I mentioned before, the word ‘day’ can mean a period of time, which is the way it’s used in the very next chapter (see Genesis 2:4). Also, the order of the creative events doesn’t appear to be logical: for example, God doesn’t create the Sun, Moon and stars until day four. This is only after creating vegetation on day three. How would the vegetation have survived without the Sun? How, in fact, is it even possible to call a day with ‘evening and morning’ without there being a Sun and Moon?
What I find more plausible is if you divide up the days as groups of three. This is probably best demonstrated with a grid:
|1||Light/day and darkness/night||4||The Sun, Moon and stars|
|2||The sky, separated from the sea||5||Sea creatures and birds|
|3||The earth, and vegetation||6||Land creatures and man|
The pattern seems to be that in days 1-3 God creates a part of the world (earth, sea, sky), and then on the corresponding day in days 4-6 he creates things to fill that particular aspect of the earth. (There are proper words for all this, I’m describing it in a very ham-fisted way!) I’ve heard of that theory before, but never really looked into it. It seems plausible to me, even though it’s not a perfect fit.
This all fits in with the narrative style of Genesis 1: it’s not poetry (as some people sometimes claim) – but it’s not straight narrative either. A term I’ve heard used is called ‘elevated prose’ – i.e., it has elements of poetry in it, such as repetition and rhythm. It’s also got some crazy numerology stuff going on in it although I won’t make much of that given what a statistician / mathematician in my year thought of it!
One point which Rob Bell made did strike me though, on a related note: the phrase ‘and there was evening and there was morning’ occurs six times. Fair enough, given that there were six days! – but does it strike you as a bit odd that evening occurs first? I would have thought that a more natural thing would have been ‘and there was morning and there was evening’. One way you can look at it is being symbolic of bringing darkness through to light: God speaks, and evening turns to morning. Darkness turns to light, chaos turns to order, the universe shapes itself according to his word. I’d never seen that in Genesis 1 before, so I offer that up as something that might be helpful.
Now, there are plenty of other fascinating things you could talk about, but most of those move on to Genesis 2 which I don’t want to go into just now. Anyway, that’s all for the moment. I’ve read some helpful books on the subject over the past couple of weeks, I will link to all of those in a future posting!