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Science and Earth History
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  • Genesis: Chronicles of the Cosmos or Cosmology?

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Science and Earth History

What is the relationship between the Bible and science?

Rich Milne


The Central Question: What is the relation between the Bible and science?

Here are the comments of two professors, both Christians and both at Christian institutions.

[The Bible] may very effectively serve as a 'textbook' of scientific principles within which we can satisfactorily explain all the data of science and history.{1}

It may surely be said that the Genesis accounts of creation are not in conflict with scientific and historical knowledge. . . . [P]recisely because they have little to do with it.{2}

Questions about the age of the earth and the relation of science to the content of the Bible have been expressed in the writings of the church from at least the time of Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 153-217), and the discussion became even more animated by the early nineteenth-century as geology began to speculate on long geological ages for the earth. This was considerably before the time of Darwin's On The Origin of Species by Natural Selection (1859), and included scientists who held to special creation (like the French paleontologist Georges Cuvier [1768-1832]) but felt that the history held in the rocks must have taken more than 6,000 years to occur.

The intent of this study is not to give a history of the development of the tension between science and biblical interpretation, but rather to consider what positions are being taken within the Christian community today.{3} This will not be a study on proposed mechanisms or specific examples of the different arguments, but rather an examination of the theological and methodological distinctions made by representative groups in the debate. With that in mind, one of the first questions concerns how different camps consider the first chapters of Genesis.

  1. Interpreting the Form of Genesis: Chronicle of the Cosmos or Cosmogony?

    Do Genesis 1 and 2 present an account of 144 hours that God spent creating the universe, or do they represent a cosmogony, a statement of how the unordered chaos of Genesis 1:2 is changed into the exquisitely complex cosmos at the end of Genesis 1? No matter what one believes about Scripture, the words on the page must be interpreted. There is no "literal" reading of a text that does not interpret the words. The central question is what rules will govern how we read a text.

    1. The Recent Creation Theory

      Recent creationists (sometimes called young earth creationists) hold to what they consider to be the simple or plain reading of the text. All of creation occurs in six twenty-four hour days, with God resting on the seventh day. Then a worldwide flood roughly 4,500 years ago creates almost all of the geologic strata.

      Genesis is seen to be a straight-forward account of the process that God used to create the universe, and if scientific interpretations conflict with this, then it is the scientific theories that are suspect. Recent creationists see humanistic and atheistic assumptions warping scientific thinking, resulting in theories that set out to prove there is no need for god to explain the universe. There is considerable evidence to support this view.

    2. The Progressive Creation Theory

      Sometimes called the "day-age" theory, progressive creationists see the "days" of Genesis 1 representing periods of time during which God created the universe, earth, and man. Thus the six days of creation are six geological eras, broadly understood to correspond to the presumed evolutionary history of the earth. This view maintains a direct reading of the text, but sees the days as longer than normal days, allowing that God's time line may be different than our own. The text of Genesis is seen to be generally accurate, but not to be pressed for too many details.

      1. The days might each represent a divine act of creation followed by a long period during which that divine action is followed by natural processes, or

      2. What is named as created on each day may represent the peak of the creation of that particular day, but creation of a particular category may have started earlier and carried on past the specific day mentioned.

      3. A variation on the progressive creation theory is the "structural" or "framework" theory. Genesis 1 gives us a literary framework that begins with the universe "formless and void" (Gen. 1:2). The first three days of creation remove the formlessness of the earth, and the last three days fill the void of the earth. On days one through three God creates light, the sky and the sea, and the earth. On days four through six God fills the sky and sea, the sea and finally the land.

    The Days of Creation

    Day One Light Day Four Luminaries
    Day Two Sea and sky Day Five Sea creatures and birds
    Day ThreeEarthDay SixAnimals and man

      1. Theistic Evolution

        Those who hold to theistic evolution cover a wide spectrum, from those who see God directing evolution, to the more common view that God created the universe with the built-in capacity to develop all the current complexity. This view has undergone considerable "evolution" itself in the last generation, and now looks more and more like standard evolutionary theory with God merely starting the process and then watching His handiwork develop all the wonderful potential He created it with.

        In this view Genesis 1 not a narrative of natural history, to be compared with the most recent accounts of how scientists think life on earth developed. Rather, it was written to function as a cosmogony, an account of how an all-powerful God took an initial chaos and imposed His order on it. The Genesis narrative was designed to show the Israelites (and all future readers) that there is one God and He has created everything, including those things which the surrounding nations worshiped as gods. Genesis 1 is a religious and theological, not a scientific and historical, narrative.

©1998 Probe Ministries
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