In a number of recent posts I have remarked that when it comes to Biblical analysis, I think the young-Earthers have more going for them than is sometimes acknowledged. I have also commented that I have been generally unimpressed with the more highbrow sorts of Biblical exegesis I have seen with regard to the text of Genesis. Let me give you an example.
I just finished reading a book called Is God A Creationist?, an edited anthology of essays published in the eighties defending various sophisticated approaches to Genesis. One of the contributors was Owen Gingerich, a professor of Astronomy and the History of Science at Harvard. After an admirably clear exposition of some of the evidence for an old universe and a primer on modern astronomy, he writes the following:
This is indeed a thrilling scenario of all that exists roaring into flame and charging forth into emptiness. And its essential framework, of everything springing forth from that blinding flash, bears a striking resonance with those succinct words of Genesis 1:3: “And God said, Let there be light.” Who could have guessed even a hundred years ago, not to mention two or three thousand years ago, that a scientific picture would emerge with electromagnetic radiation as the starting point of creation?
Later Gingerich writes this:
There is, however, something more in Genesis 1 that does not, and probably cannot, emerge in a scientific picture of creation. Natural theology can argue for the existence of God the Creator and Designer, but it falls short in revealing the essential significance of the biblical creation story. Without doubt the most crucial sentence of the chapter is verse 27, so quintessential that the idea is immediately repeated lest we miss it: “God created man in his own image, in his own image created he him, male and female created he them.” Succinctly put, the stance of the biblical account is that God is not only Creator and Designer, but there is within us, male and female, a divine creative spark, a touch of the infinite, consciousness, and conscience.
This sort of thing really drives me up a wall. The Young-Earthers I understand. If you can grant their rather dubious assumptions about the authority of the Bible, you can understand why they believe the things that they do.
It’s people like Gingerich I don’t understand. He cherry picks two verses that he wants us to take very seriously. In verse three we find that God begins by creating light, and, hey!, that’s kind of like what modern cosmology says. Then he turns to the end of the stroy and tells us we should ruminate on the verse that asserts we were created in the image of God.
And the twenty-three verses in between? Where the Bible enumerates, in great detail, a sequence of events that is utterly fictitious? Well, just ignore that part.
Even worse, Gingerich’s points do not make sense. He asks us to see a concordance between God’s creation of light in verse three of Genesis with the picture painted by the Big Bang model. Sadly, by the time we reach verse three the heavens (which presumably refers to space) and the Earth have already been created. The Earth even has water on it. I’d say that’s a big point of departure between the Bible and the Big Bang.
That second excerpt is even worse. Gingerich claims that a scientific picture of creation “probably cannot” capture the special role of humans. But a scientific picture could certainly have included things that would get any reasonable person thinking seriously about concordance between science and Genesis.
For example, what if scientists had discovered some fundamental anatomical difference between humans and animals? What if different animals used fundamentally different genetic codes, and these codes appeared in a pattern that corresponded to some reasonable notion of different kinds? What if geologists found no trace of a long history of life? These are the sorts of things science might have discovered. If it had, then we could talk reasonably about concordance.
That science has found no such thing is therefore highly revealing. Not only has science failed to find any evidence that human beings are the purpose of creation, or that we occupy some exalted role in the grand scheme of things, it has found very clear evidence to the contrary. In particular, most biologists see no evidence that a lengthy process of Darwinian evolution inevitably leads to the creation of human-like intelligence. You have to accept some very dubious arguments about evolutionary convergences even to get inevitable humans.
So how does a smart guy like Gingerich come to these conclusions? I’ve read so many books and essays of this general sort and it always feels like the writer is just making it up as he goes along.
The young-Earthers make sense. They’re out of their minds, but they make sense. It is people like Gingerich I don’t understand. His arguments seem weak on their face. More than that, the whole approach that says the Bible has a great deal in it that is absurd from a scientific standpoint, but should still be mined for the few verses here and there that can be related to something in modern science (or which flatters our sense of cosmic importance), does not make a whole lot sense.