From HAVEN NEWS Autumn 2017
The Bible says, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them,” (Exodus 20:11). In our modern scientific world, what does that mean? What do Christians actually believe about how God created the world?
There are basically three common ideas around. Many people mistakenly assume that science has proved that everything came into existence by natural processes and random chance. The media often give the impression that all scientists reject the idea of a Creator, but that is not correct.
This assumption that science has proved God cannot exist is only that – an assumption. Some scientists are committed Christians. But the minds of some people are closed to the idea of God as Creator, so in the end they can’t see the evidence for God’s existence which Christians do see. We have experienced the power of God and seen him at work. It was Albert Einstein who said “Science without religion is blind. Religion without science is lame.” The truth is that science will never prove decisively whether God created everything or not.
In contrast to some scientists, Christians (and Jews and Muslims and people of all faiths) believe that God created the whole universe. All Christians believe that God created the universe. From beginning to end the Bible teaches is that God is the Creator. God created space and time, matter and energy, all things out of nothing. More than that, God then designed and formed and shaped everything into the way we see things today. The fourth century declaration of Christian faith the Nicene Creed begins, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
All Christians agree that God is Creator. Where Christians hold different opinions is over how God created the universe and particularly how long it all took. There are two major alternative understandings of this point.
“Young Earth Creationists” also called “7-Day Creationists”
This understanding reads the first two chapters of Genesis entirely literally. So “7-Day Creationists” believe that God made the universe from nothing in just six days which lasted 24 hours each. From the ages of Adam and all his descendants they calculate that the earth was created only some thousands of years BC and so the earth is now less than 10,000 years old. This is why they are also described as “Young Earth Creationists”. This understanding is sharply opposed to the view of scientists who think the universe is between 13 and 14 billion years old, that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that human beings like us have been around for two hundred thousand years or so. Scientific theories such as evolution and the existence of dinosaurs in biology and continental drift in geology seem to contradict the idea of the entire creation taking only seven days.
“Old Earth Creationists”
There are very many other Christians who don’t see the same problems with theories of evolution or dinosaurs or continental drift. “Old Earth Creationists” still believe just as strongly that the God of the Bible is Creator of the whole universe. But “Old Earth Creationists” believe that God created what scientists observe as “natural processes” like evolution or continental drift and then God worked through those processes to shape planet earth and all the life on it over billions of years. “Old Earth Creationists” are happy to accept that the theories of science describe how God made the earth while the Bible explains who it was made the earth and why.
The majority of Christians in Britain hold this view of “Old Earth Creationists.” In essence, the debate is not a matter of science but of how Christians understand the Bible. What do the ‘days’ in Genesis refer to? It is not necessary to believe in a literal 7-day creation to follow Jesus or to believe in the authority of the Bible.
In the Bible the events of creation were revealed, not observed. In the account of Creation in Genesis chapter 1 there were no humans around until the Sixth Day, so the Genesis account certainly did not come from direct human observation. It was revealed in some way to the author of Genesis. All revelations have to be subject to interpretation and in the Bible revelations are more often symbolic than literal. There are different kinds of language in the Bible and some is symbolic or metaphorical. When we approach any passage in the Bible we must try to work out what kind of language that passage is written in. Eternal and spiritual truths, things we can never fully understand or adequately describe, often cannot be expressed in literal language. Instead religious truth is often expressed in words which are being used symbolically or poetically, using similes and metaphors, sometimes bending language almost to breaking point. It is a big mistake to try to understand literally language which is intended to be understood symbolically.
For example, think about when Jesus told his parables. Was the “Good Samaritan” a real living person? Did a genuine “Prodigal Son” ever leave his father? Were those parables recording history? Surely these were instead carefully constructed stories conveying powerful spiritual truths. The parables did not necessarily relate to historical events. We have to ask similar questions about the Creation Narratives in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Are they intended to be “scientific truth” in Twenty-First Century terms? Is the language literal or is it instead symbolic or poetical language?
“Old Earth Creationists” (like me) believe that Genesis is teaching religious and not scientific truth. Therefore we believe that the language in the Biblical account of creation is metaphorical and symbolic rather than necessarily literal. Genesis teaches who it was who created the earth (God) and why, but Genesis is not a scientific textbook to tell us how it all took place.
In the Bible the word “day” does not always refer to a 24-hour period. 2 Peter 3:8 quotes Psalm 90:4 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. If the days in Genesis are symbolic days from God’s perspective, referring to long periods of time, most of the apparent conflict between science and the Bible disappears.
The Bible accounts need to be read in the context of the kinds of literature which were around when they were written, not as if they were written today just for us. This little story explains that important point.
A man walks into a doctor’s surgery. “Doctor, Doctor,” he said. “I keep on singing ‘The Green Green Grass of Home’ all the time.”
The Doctor replied, “You’ve got ‘Tom Jones syndrome’.”
“Really?” the man asked, “Is that common?”
The Doctor’s answer: “It’s not unusual!” Boom Boom.
We know what kind of story that is by the formula, beginning, “Doctor, Doctor” and ending “Boom, Boom”. It is a joke. It is only humorous if we know certain key facts: Tom Jones is a famous singer and two of his greatest hits are “The Green Green Grass of Home” and “It’s not unusual.” To work as a joke, it is completely irrelevant whether an actual man ever did walk into a specific doctor’s surgery or not. It is a funny story – it does not demand historicity. There are obvious reasons why we would not expect to find that story in the Bible because elements of it would be outside that time period: it would be anachronistic. In the same way, it would be anachronistic to find in Genesis the kind of literalism, or scientific details or historical language which we use today. The forms of language used by science and history as we know them have only existed from the Eighteenth Century onwards. But Genesis 1-2 must surely have been revealed by God to those writers in ways that the people then could understand, not in the language of history and science which weren’t going to be invented for thousands of years.
So how did God create the world? We cannot know for certain. What the Bible does clearly teach is that Almighty God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. With the eye of faith, we can see the Hand of the Designer, the eternal Architect, in all He has made. What a wonderful world! And science which studies the wonders of creation will never ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of the Creator who is beyond and above His creation.
Rev Peter Thomas graduated in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and taught chemistry and computer studies before studying theology and becoming a Baptist Minister. After further study he also holds a Masters degree in Biblical Interpretation.`