Origins of the World
How did our world come to be?
There is a great deal of debate, even between Christians, over this issue of the origins of the world. Some maintain that if you don’t have a literal reading of Genesis 1-3, the whole of the Bible falls apart. Others maintain that Genesis 1-3 has been disproven by science and therefore we need to cling to science while still maintaining our faith. These people have all sorts of theories, from the account being mere fiction or poetry to re-reading terms like “day” to mean long ages.
We need not cling to the dogmatism that reading Genesis 1-3 figuratively destroys the whole framework of the Bible. There are plenty of Biblical passages that Christians read figuratively, because they were intended to be. I don’t believe that anyone, much less me, has a complete, non-contradictory, and accurate doctrine. We all get plenty of things wrong, and most of them don’t destroy the whole framework of the Bible (some do, however!). However, we also need not completely acquiesce to current scientific models.
I am very spiritual in my approach to the Bible. When Joshua records that the sun stood still, or Isaiah records that the sun moved backwards, or for that matter when Jesus heals a man, I see no reason to disagree with any of them. To me, God is God and He is all-powerful. If I didn’t believe so, I wouldn’t be a Christian. In the same way, when Moses writes that God created all that there is in six days, I see no reason to disagree. Some say the words are figurative, but most honest Biblical scholarship simply can’t agree. The writer certainly appears to believe that he is recording history.
How can this, then, be reconciled with scientific understandings? I subscribe to a view held by some that God created all that exists with age, with a history. Some argue that this makes God out to be a trickster or liar, but I don’t see how. God is, in some ways, a storyteller, and many storytellers understand backstories to their stories. Some, like J.R.R. Tolkien, were kind enough to write things like the collection we now call the Silmarillion, but others like George Lucas leave us to speculate. I believe that God wrote a history and left the signs there for us to discover in our own time.
I phrase it like this. Was Adam created as a one-day old fetus? Of course not. Was the earth devoid of trees, instead full only of tiny seedlings? Surely not. Did Adam have a belly-button, and did the trees have existing rings? Yes! Everything that exists was created with an age, a history that never actually happened. Not only were unimaginable numbers of stars created, but light was created already between them and us.
I believe this to be the most logically consistent understanding of the creation account in Genesis that also accepts the story as a literal divinely-inspired account. Not only did God create all that exists, he also created unbelievably complex scientific and physical processes and created the entire backstory. I think it makes Him more amazing, like a designer who leaves little secrets for admirers to discover later.
Response from Aurelius
While a Christian I used to subscribe to a reasoning similar to yours. God may have created everything with a built-in age. For all we know, given his omnipotence, he could have created the universe on 01 Jan 2014 with all the signs and memories we believed to have existed beforehand. That is how, I reasoned, radiocarbon dating can show rocks to be tens of thousands of years old and we can see stars that by accurate scientific measures are billions of light-years away. Now that I’m not a Christian, those arguments seem to me no more than a farfetched justification of an extremely unlikely story.
Then, I started believing that evolution was sound and that the Genesis account must be figurative. That way, science isn’t lying to us. Why would god have created the earth just 6,000 years ago but leave tremendous evidence screaming for an earlier beginning? Why does evolution pass so many scientific tests if that’s not how things really are? For better or worse, carrying this reasoning further led me away from god entirely. A personal god like the Christian God made no sense to me because prayers went unanswered.
I’m straying a little from the point here, but to me the bible is just a book written by humans that carries some good wisdom and principles among many outdated practices. It’s worth reading to better understand politics, modern Christians, and history. However, considering the extreme beliefs of Christianity, I’m surprised it’s not a fringe religion.
The universe as we know it began roughly 13.8 billion years ago with a rapid expansion following what is commonly known as the Big Bang. We know this because we can measure today precisely how quickly the universe is expanding based on the measured distance between galaxies that we have been observing since the 1920s. Tracing this expansion process backwards results in a hot dense beginning, which we currently don’t know much about, but there have been some recent breakthroughs.
Some progress in understanding these origins was made earlier this year through research in the cosmic microwave background, a signal that can still be measured today and is believed to have originated fractions of a second after the universe’s initial expansion. The findings seem to further confirm the expansion or inflation theory that has circulated for a few decades. In this overview lecture, Stephen Hawking discusses that space and time are not constant or even separate, but better explained by Einstein’s Theories of Relativity and, more recently, quantum theory. The General Theory of Relativity helps answer the question, “What happened before the Big Bang?” With time and space defined as relative constructs combined as spacetime, scientific evidence points to nothing happening before the event. Time itself began with the Big Bang. It doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s where the evidence leads at the moment. Further, quantum theory helps explain what happened at the moment of the Big Bang since Einstein’s theories do not work on that scale.
Our solar system, and consequently Earth, formed roughly 4.6 billion years ago. To keep this concise, there were gravitational clusters, accretion, and a slew of volcanic activity that gradually formed Earth. Heavy bombardment in this initial era could have seeded life on Earth and could have possibly wiped out then reinvigorated life multiple times over. We don’t know, but eventually life began.
Life in our world was made possible by a miracle of chemistry resulting in organic compounds that increased in complexity through the process of evolution. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, four of the most abundant elements in the universe, can form organic molecules under conditions similar to early Earth, as was first discovered in the mid 20th century. That’s a leading theory on how life came to be if not seeded from an impact.
As a final note, I realize this question can prompt drastically different answers depending on one’s worldview and that my viewpoint is the minority in the U.S. Even while a Christian I believed in evolution. It’s a beautiful theory that explains so much of biology and is not necessarily counter to religion as many today suggest. Dawkins is vocally anti-creation and anti-religion, but he makes some good points about biological evolution in his books. For a Christian viewpoint encompassing evolution, see Francis Collins’ The Language of God. While some sources are cited above, the four main sources I used are Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, and Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth and The God Delusion. The first two detail cosmic evolution from world-renowned astrophysicists while the second two focus on biological evolution particularly when countered with a creation worldview. Crash Course, my favorite YouTube channel, now has a series on this topic.
Response from Antipas
It’s pretty incredible to me how much the scientific community has been able to learn about our universe and our history. They really embody what it means to stand on the shoulders of others to see further. Learning from each other and building upon the discoveries of each other, they have really put together a remarkable understanding. I have a great deal of respect for their processes and what they have uncovered.
It’s a bit frivolous for Christians to argue with this scientific understanding. I’ve seen my fair share of them, and I think they’re all pretty goofy. How it is that average people think they can outsmart these generations of scientists with an argument they read on the Internet is beyond me. The methods and understandings that you’ve outlined above are pretty sound, and I think they tell a great tale of our history. I’m sure there’s a great deal left to learn as well.
I stand by my belief that God wrote this history for us, and that it neither makes God nor science into liars. Whether or not it “actually happened” is beside the point – it’s not like anyone witnessed it anyways. It should not affect the scientific process’ ability to use the understanding whether it “actually happened” or God created it in our history. For the process, it’s just as valid either way.