Biblical Creationism: faithfully reading both of God’s two books

The living area God cleared for us

Recently, my 2yr 9mth grandson drew a picture inside my birthday card with just clouds along the upper edge and a squiggle along the lower edge which he said was sea. The blank between neatly fitted my birthday greetings on the facing page. It was as though he had read Genesis chapter 1, verse 7, “God said, ‘Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water’” (NIV), to be filled with dry ground for us to spend our lives with lots of animals and plants (Genesis 1:9-31).

Genesis chapters 1-3 are all about God creating our home on earth and setting us up to fill it and to work happily in the Creator’s way during the time allotted to us here. The first verse of Genesis states the scope of these chapters – “God created the heaven and earth.” Verse 8 defines what “heaven” means in this context: it is not the vast reaches of space discovered in recent centuries beyond the sky, nor is it God’s eternal home beyond this universe; what is meant is our sky here on earth – the “heavens … in all their vast array” (Genesis 2:1, NIV) that human beings have always seen with the naked eye from the earth’s surface.

Nevertheless, later parts of the Christian Bible clearly teach that God made the whole universe, with whatever extent it is discovered to have. They also reveal that God the Father sent God the Son to be a human being on earth in order to rescue us from the mess we have made of the job God has given us, and that God the Spirit is with us to start the transformation needed to work in the presence of God for ever. Yet these chapters of Genesis shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims only hint at that plan of salvation. It is not until the New Testament that the Bible is fully explicit that the initial and continued existence of the whole cosmos depends on the saving Lord, the Jews’ Messiah and Servant King for all peoples. The Letter to the Hebrews states that the man Jesus of Nazareth who died by crucifixion two millenia ago (Hebrews 2:9) is enthroned in eternity and sustains everything in the universe in the same way that the earth and its inhabitants were made – by the creative power of his word (Hebrews 1:2-3).

Genesis is silent about what God created beyond the sky or below the bottom of the sea because those are not part of humanity’s divinely provided home. Yet that does not imply we are forbidden to dig into the ocean floor or to explore the sky and beyond. To the contrary, Genesis dethrones the moon from its place among the gods of other ancient peoples to its mundane function for humanity, of providing some light when the sun is not up (Genesis 1:15-16). The moon might not be habitable like the earth, and the wandering red star even less so, but the surface of the moon or Mars is no more (or less) holy ground than the surface of the earth. Indeed, when we get far enough above the sky to see Earth suspended in space, we begin to appreciate what a miracle our home is and how awe-inspiring is the task God gives us in Genesis 1:26-30 (and Genesis 2:15-17) of ruling over what we have since been taught by God in other ways is a tiny planet of an ordinary sun near the edge of one of a myriad of galaxies.

God’s two books

We read throughout the Bible that God originally created and continues to uphold everything of significance to humanity in the biosphere and in cultural history. “God said, ‘Let there be …’ and it was so” (Genesis 1:6-24). “God created … male and female … and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and … fill the earth’” (Genesis 1:27-28). God “reduces the rulers of this world to nothing … [and] brings out the starry host” (Isaiah 40:23,26). God “made the universe” and “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:2-3). “Who has ever given to God …? For from him and through him and to him are all things (Romans 11:35-36).

A key point of this article is that what God said in order to start the processes of nature, society and individual mortal lives is also what God says now, and to the same effect. God’s idea about everything at the beginning remains God’s idea about everything now, and until God decides the end. In other words, God’s providence is the continuation of God’s creative acts.

This biblical doctrine of divine creating has many implications but the focus here is on what it means for understanding the first three or four chapters of the book of Genesis. Perhaps the most major consequence of God’s consistent upholding of the creation is that we can find out how God did things from the start by looking for evidence on how the world works now.

That is to say, we can understand better God’s book of revealed Scripture by careful reading of God’s other “book,” as what can being investigated scientifically was termed 400 years ago by the devout Christian, Francis Bacon.1 Indeed, the Apostle Paul taught that what anybody can see God doing here on earth reveals all that we need to know about the divine Upholder (Romans 1:20). Humanity has been created with a capacity to understand what God authored in and around us, and thereby to think in limited but realistic ways the Author’s thoughts about the workings of the providentially sustained processes of human culture, the natural environment, material technologies and our mental organisation of our individual lives – that is, to read God’s other book with a realistic hope of comprehending what it teach us about society, biology, engineering and a human being’s whole life or soul.2

Furthermore, since the Bible and the creation come from the word of the same Author, we should expect them to be consistent with each other. Hence, if those who claim to understand what God says through Scripture contradict those who claim to understand what God says through history and science, then at least one side or the other must be wrong – and both could be wrong. More to the point, when we read God’s two books as saying the same, that in itself is good reason to think that we are coming to a better understanding of God’s message through both of them.

A no less important implication of God’s inspiration of Scripture and upholding of the universe is that we should expect the whole of each of these two ‘Books’ to be consistent with itself.

That is, we should avoid interpreting what God says through one part of the Bible to be different from what God says elsewhere in the Bible to another place and time, except as required by the contexts of each of the pieces of writing.

Similarly, we should avoid interpreting what God says through the creation at one point in space-time to be different from that in another time and place, except as required by the observed evidence. This view matches a fundamental principle of scientific research. Scientists study aspects of the universe that are repeatedly observable (unlike the unique events studied by historians) using a simple and pervasive working hypothesis known as the Principle of Uniformity. Evidence is interpreted in accordance with the same causal principles here and now and in the distant past and/or on the other side of the universe, until observations persistently indicate otherwise.

Some have argued that the very possibility of science confirms the existence of a rational Creator. Another argument is that our minds have been created in a very special way so that we can understand how God works in creation. A less extreme view than either of these is that science is possible for a society of intelligent beings because God is self-consistent in providence since the initial creation. Hence, in particular, we can use what we understand of how nature, society and minds work nowadays in order to interpret the scrappy bits of evidence remaining from what happened in the past, from however long back that evidence shows itself to have lasted. Humility before the evidence as understood by recognised experts is just as appropriate an attitude for believers in the Creator of all as is humility before the Scriptures that speak of Jesus the Christ as understood by professional scholars of the literary history of those sacred writings.

What the Bible says about the initial creation

Humble reading of God’s first Book — that is, the collection of ‘books’ acknowledged by Christians down the centuries to be the revealed Scriptures — requires each passage to be taken literally as the writer or editor intended under divine inspiration. It is highly disrespectful to the intended original readers of the first chapters of Genesis to treat them as a schoolchild’s version of what scientists would discover thousands of years later. It is modernistic sacrilege to read them as a single newspaper report by Moses of an interview with God on Mount Sinai, let alone as a page from God’s own diary for a merely human week. So let’s look at what the first chapters of Genesis actually say for themselves, and about themselves.

The book of Genesis starts with two systematic accounts of the Creator-Upholder’s design for our home. The Sabbath account (Genesis 1-2:3) teaches that we are made to run families, politics and nature around the globe as agents of the King of the universe but also to keep some of our time special to honour our God explicitly by name. The Eden account (Genesis 2:4-3:24) centres human society on one-to-one companionship between a man and a woman, made with the social, biological and mental capacities to care for their initially helpless offspring and to rear them to a maturity at which they can serve God in turn. Let’s read these two accounts one at a time.3

The Sabbath song

Verses 3 to 31 of Genesis 1 may not ever have been sung. They are written in prose, not in poetry like the Psalms. Nevertheless these verses have a poetic structure, with the regular refrains “God said, ‘Let [it be]’”, “and it was so”, “God saw it was good” and “the evening and the morning were the [first/sixth] day.” Also the topics of the three stanzas of verses 3 to 13 are repeated in the same order from a different point of view in verses 13 to 31. What then is the message of this hymn of creation?

The twice-repeated sequence is in a logical order of dependencies, from light and dark to waters above and below and then fertile dry land between them. It is beside the point whether or not the earth once had sea without land, or if the sun and the moon have always been visible in the sky (including sometimes the moon during the day). The literary parallelism between the stanzas that come third in each triplet means that this pair of verses say nothing about whether land animals existed before or after fruiting vegetation. It would fly in the face of the structuring of this poem about creation to expect the fossil record to show that birds (verse 20b) existed before the animals that move only on solid ground (verse 24), or to see some confirmation of Genesis 1 in evidence that life appeared first in the oceans (verse 20a, 21a). Most particularly, it would not make sense to show human beings being put in charge of sea creatures, birds and land animals (verse 26) unless the fauna in all these habitats had been specified first (verses 20-25).

No, Genesis 1 is practical theology, not theoretical cosmology or paleontology. Instead of the cosmos somehow being created by a pantheon of gods that need light to see, all light has been created by the one and only God of Abraham and Moses and the whole earth (verse 3). This is central to the Christian Gospel: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 ). Indeed, John’s Gospel starts with an exact parallel to Genesis 1:1-4, with Jesus as the Creator God. Moreover, God shines through Christians in community (1 John 1:5-7), as Jesus himself told his disciples (Matthew 5:14-16).

That is, Genesis 1 does not just expound monotheism. The first of the trio of stanzas on the second time around is an explicit attack on surrounding religions in which the sun and the moon were worshipped. Instead of using those gods’ names, “sun” and “moon,” Genesis substitutes the functional terms “greater light” and “lesser light.” We could ask if today’s Bible-believing Christians are really listening to what God says through Genesis. The days of the week are named after Norse and Roman gods, including the sun and the moon. So why do Christians use the term “Sunday worship” to refer to their meetings to honour God’s name that are held on the day of their Lord’s resurrection? Indeed, that question leads us directly to the reason stated in Genesis for this dramatic pattern in the first chapter.

Why is this account of the Spirit of God shaping our home from the formless and empty earth (Genesis 1:2) arranged in two parallel sets of three days? A faithful reader of the Bible ignores the divisions into chapters that have been added to the original and treats Genesis 2:1-3 as a seamless continuation of Genesis 1:3-31. The very next three verses say that this pattern in Genesis 1 is intended to show that the God of creation is the God of Abraham and Moses. The whole point of the six-times repeated refrain of this ‘song’ is the difference when we come to number seven. The six times have to be ordinary human working days because the seventh time is different – the day of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10, 31:14-17) – as the day without the usual round of work, made for human beings to rest as Jesus himself said, including not having to work to religious rules (Mark 2:27). The poetry is structured to make the point that the Israelites resting on the seventh day of their week was to be a sign that God had chosen them as his special people. So their God (Yahweh in Hebrew, translated the LORD) is pictured as doing the ordinary work of the Creator-Sustainer of all peoples (Elohim in Hebrew, the plural of El, which is the word Allah in Arabic) from the start of the Jewish day at sundown through the night to the end of daylight on what we call the next day. It would be an insult to God to suppose that each piece of the initial creation actually took as long as 24 hours, with the Creator having to work all night in order to get the work done before next sundown. On the contrary, in each of the three pairs of stanzas God states what is to happen (“God said”) and it happens (“and it was so”) — instantly, as indeed it also does now in God’s sustaining providence (on which more at the end of this article): as the Psalmist sang, “Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (Psalm 119:91).

The first three days of a week (each starting at dusk for the original readers, not at midnight to suit 21st-century readers) are used to present the whole architecture of our home and the second three days are about its furniture. Days 1 and 4 are the principles of light and darkness, realised in bright sunshine and the dim light of the moon and stars. This turns on their heads the religions where sun, moon and stars are the gods and nobody had thought that light itself had to be created for the objects in the heavens to be visible. On Days 2 and 5, the depths of the sea and the expanse of the sky are fully furnished with animals for the water or for the air, ready for the house to be rented to humanity. Days 3 and 6 tell us about the green-planted lands around the globe populated with wild and domesticated animals, given to all humanity for use in God’s purposes.

So neither the first or the fourth days of the week is the sun’s day, nor is Monday pigeon day and Thursday fish day. It might be good to appreciate the countryside with the family on Tuesdays and Fridays but, since the first day of the week has become the special day for Christ the King, then Saturday would be equally good for doing that sort of thing, at least in economies where enough people can stop their usual work for both the Jews’ Sabbath and the Christians’ Lord’s Day. Indeed many calendars now present Monday as the first day of the (working) week, with Sunday as well as Saturday being the ‘weekend.’

The central message of the Sabbath account of creation is that men and women together are to fill the earth on behalf of their Creator — in honour of God’s Name. The Eden account, next, is in a totally different style and its message deals more specifically with the interpersonal and cultural processes that are crucial to such service of the Creator across the earth.

The Eden event

The account of the Garden of Eden and its aftermath centres on relationships among individual human beings, pictured first as what we now term hunter-gatherers (Genesis 2:9,19-20) and subsequently as agriculturalists (Genesis 3:17-19,23, 4:2,20) and workers in metal (Genesis 4:22). Again in contrast with ancient creation myths, Genesis shows no interest in the ancestry of the human race among gods and monsters as the rest of the ancient world assumed, in part maybe from misinterpretations of exposed dinosaur bones.4 Genesis 2 makes plain that each person is made from a man and a woman and ultimately from earth, water and air, and that this is all that matters as the physical preconditions for the human social order and the consequent mentality of conjugal love.

The events in the Garden are set amongst a far wider humanity.

First, the initially anonymous man and woman end up with names that show they are intended to be representative human beings. In Genesis 2:20, and from 3:17 onwards, the man is called by a word (‘adam’) that sounds like ‘Earthman’ (or man of the soil). The name ‘Eve’ is explicitly stated to mean Mother of All (Genesis 3:20). The tormented Job takes the Eden account of the forming of Adam from clay to refer to him and to all humanity, not to just a first person on earth to relate to God (Job 10:9). Paul uses Adam as the first man to represent sinful humanity as the contrast with the one historically identified man, Jesus the Christ, “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22,45). Indeed, elsewhere Paul calls Adam “a pattern” (Romans 5:14).

Secondly, the early chapters of Genesis presuppose that there were other human beings besides Adam and Eve and their sons Cain and Abel, not just because Cain got a wife from somewhere (Genesis 4:17a) but also because there were enough people locally at that time to fill the city that Cain was building (Genesis 4:17b). Some later peoples related to the God of Adam and Eve and some apparently did not (Genesis 6:2). Some of these intermarrying human beings were giants (Genesis 6:4), still extant when the Israelites were scouting out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:33). Genesis should not be interpreted in a self-contradictory way by taking some of these ancestors of humanity to be supernatural beings.

Thirdly, Genesis 2 adds the essential societal requirements for the biological mandate of Genesis 1:28 that could never be met by a solitary couple. God’s plan for humanity, male and female, is that they multiply through male-female pairs who live as companions independently of their parents (Genesis 2:18,23-24), enjoy sex together (“become one flesh”), have children and care for them until they in turn find their partners (Genesis 4:1-2,17).

However Genesis 2 introduces an amazing twist on Genesis 1. God’s plan is not just that we rule the earth as representatives (God’s “image”: Genesis 1:26a,27a) but that we do that while communing with our Creator here on earth (Genesis 2:16,22, 3:8-9 ff). Indeed of course throughout the Old Testament, God is very far from the blind watchmaker who set it all going and left us to our own devices. Rather, the Creator-God of Abraham and Isaac is the also Provider-God (“Yahweh Jireth”: Genesis 22:14) and is fully hands-on with the chosen people, long before living on earth as the human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

Yet Genesis 3 shows that we ruined the plan from its start and lost contact with God as a result. This is where faithful reading of Scripture becomes crucially important, not just to relations to science but, much more importantly, to our whole understanding of the human condition — specifically, our understanding of mortality and of morality.

On one side, the “knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17) cannot be knowing the difference between right and wrong because God forbade us such knowledge. The Tempter exploits this misunderstanding to turn us against God (Genesis 3:4). We would not be human beings unless we knew that murder was immoral. God saying “You shall not murder” as part of the Covenant with the Israelites (Exodus 20: 1-17; Genesis 2:3) was not the divine foundation of ethics, nor even a religious sanction against immorality. For an Israelite, it made murder of another human being into something even worse than a terrible deed against that person, the family and society: it made such an act a sin against God – a breach of the love for God that is expected from the people of the promise (Exodus 20:6).

Complementarily, in Genesis 3 we are taught that what God views as very good (Genesis 1:31) has been appallingly abused by humanity. “Good” here means fitting to God’s purposes for humanity — what works well in human life. The evil done by Adam and Eve, and by every human being since that undatable event in our origins, was misuse of the gifts provided by the Creator – in other words, disobeying God. The results of such an action are more and more of the same rebellious rejection of the life that we were created to live. Doing evil is spoiling the wonderful work that God gave us to do in a beautiful creation. We as all humanity grieve our Creator by not doing what we were put here to do, as much as believers in particular grieve their Saviour if they fail to follow him by showing God’s love by living in the power of the Spirit.

Hence the main point of the Eden event is missed if Genesis 3:6a is taken to be a condemnation of greed, lust and ambition. Food is good (Genesis 1:19, 2:9) – and the nutritionists are telling us now that tree fruit (even an apple) is especially good! Visual attractiveness is good (Genesis 2:9b). God made the beauty of ripe fruit and of the human body and said that they were “very good.” The thirst for knowledge that our Eve showed is one of the greatest gifts God created in us – understanding other individuals, being wise in the ways of the world, insight into God’s will for our own lives. What the first human beings did that was evil was not anything morally wrong. It was doing things that are right and proper – eating, enjoying what looks good, craving wisdom. What was sinful was doing them in a way that they knew God had forbidden. In other words, they exploited the Creator’s gifts instead of ruling over the creation as God had brought them into being and explicitly commissioned them to do. They became ashamed of their physical appetite for each other, the beauty of their naked bodies and their intimate skills with each other, and so had to cover themselves.

Notice how this shame involved bodies, relationships and emotions. It should be noted that God’s curses on the woman and the man also are changes in the cultural and personal meaning of the physical creation. Our bodies, animals and plants still operate as God intended them to do from the start; what has changed is that we use our bodies for our own selfish reasons instead for the Creator’s purposes. What God meant to be the joy of multiplying to fill and rule the earth in love, we have turned into painful labour, both in childbirth (Genesis 3:16a) and in the cultivation of food (Genesis 3:17b-19a).

Childbirth was created to be painful because the human baby’s marvellously endowed brain grows in the safety of the womb to a size at the limit of the mother’s pelvis. The Creator intended the mother to be so deeply involved in giving glory to God for her part in bringing a new human life into the world that the pain was like that of a marathon runner competing for her country. A woman without this closeness to God’s purposes does not have such compelling distraction from the pain and so it can become unbearable (Genesis 3:16a).

The hunter and the herdsman have the joy (and dangers) of roaming free over the earth outwitting the wild animals or caring for the goats or the sheep. The farmer was intended to have the joy of doing battle with the genetic diversity created by God in order to feed the village and even to produce enough to trade with other settlements, rather than just tending a garden for the family. This can be heavy toil when the ground is hard, the weather is inclement and the competing plant species are vigorous but that suffering brings the reward of feeding humanity as God planned. The farmer who rebels against God’s purposes, though, reduces himself (or herself if her husband can demand it) to resentfully feeling every prickle on the weeds that keep invading the crop (Genesis 1:17b-19).

If Genesis 3:16b is read literally, that second curse on the women can also be seen as the consequences of sinful attitudes to the physical delights that God has created, in this case to support lifelong companionship and the mandate to multiply. The pleasures of naked intimacy between a couple become corrupted by sin so that, in the societies for which Genesis was written, the wife has to submit to the sexual whims of her husband, and even wants it that way (Genesis 3:16b)5. In such a culture, a woman with a glorious head of hair must keep it from the sight of men when God’s people meet together (1 Corinthians 10:5-6) and even cover herself totally outside the home so that no other man can view her as a sex object. This corruption of marital partnership may be what the Psalmist has been taken to refer to as the sin in which his mother conceived him (Psalm 51:5b).

The curse on the serpent in Genesis 3:14-15 can also be seen as human attitudes that do not give honour to God. Snakes are feared and despised at the same time, despite the great beauty of some species and their very efficient means of getting their food. Thus, because snakes can insinuate themselves where other creatures of similar size cannot, and some are fatally poisonous, they can represent deviousness (Genesis 3:1,13) and viciousness (verse 15a). Yet a snake also is the very image of an eater of dirt and dweller in filth (verse 14b). So it is a unspiritual trivialisation of this verse to treat it as a just-so story of how snakes lost an original pair of legs (or was it four, or dozens?). Just as the six days of the Sabbath account were chosen to lead to the seventh day for rest, so an animal cursed to crawl in the dirt is chosen to picture the Evil One.

Similarly Genesis 3:15 is not a prophecy of Jesus being bitten by a snake and then stamping on its head. The literal meaning is that Satan’s attack will be reversed by a crushing blow, as was later revealed to be the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Hence Genesis 3:1-4 has nothing to do with the real snakes that God has created among all the other good things in nature. What Scripture is telling us here is that, from the very first, we creatures who are able to relate to God are tempted by our and God’s enemy (Satan), just as Jesus was at the start of his public ministry (Matthew 4:1,11; Hebrews 4:15) but, unlike him, we all too easily succumb.

We all use our divinely created freedom to rebel against our Creator. So we are now in exile until the king finds a way to return us to citizenship. Such expulsion from God’s presence is what the Bible from Genesis to Revelation calls death. Genesis should not be made to contradict itself or to contradict God’s other book. God said that disobedience brings death (Genesis 2:17) and the message of the rest of the Bible and supremely the Christian Gospel is that this means spiritual death – that is, disobedience to God brings alienation of the sinner from God (Genesis 3:22-24). A human being cannot save himself or herself merely by picking what s/he likes off the tree of life. Only the Almighty’s self-sacrifice as a sinless human being could provide the food on the tree that sinners against their Creator could eat and live for ever with God. Genesis 3:15 prophesies that, through human descendants of the Tempter, that killer snake would sink its fangs into the human descendent of those who are tempted as he was but without sinning (Hebrews 4:15) but he would crush the whole head of the Enemy, ending its power for ever.

The above illustrates how Genesis 2 and 3 should be interpreted literally as intended at the time of writing. The parables of Jesus are not read as newspaper reports. While Jesus was teaching “a sower went out to sow,” maybe he could see a farmer scattering seed but he was talking about different receptions of his message, not describing the sowing of seed. Just as God is figuratively described in the Sabbath account as resting on the seventh day of the week in which initial creation is framed, so the enemy of God is presented figuratively in the Eden account as a snake. This interpretation is not an importation from modern biology: the first hearers of Genesis 3 knew that snakes do not talk. The interpretation is imported from elsewhere in the Bible. In Revelation 12:8 and 20:2, the “enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns,” whose “tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth” – symbolism if ever there was – is also described as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Snakes are cursed with our prejudice against them as being cunning and grubby: what better picture for antagonism to God? Hence the literal interpretation of Genesis 3:1-4 is not that the first female human being had a conversation with a snake about forbidden fruit but that you and I are tempted to disobey God and we all too easily persuade ourselves it is the sensible thing to do.

Turning back from Genesis 3 to Genesis 2, we need the same literal adherence to the meaning for the original hearers and readers in order to understand the forming of Adam and of Eve and of their garden setting.

Genesis 2:5-7 could refer to humanity before and/or elsewhere than the Garden of Eden, when nobody cultivated crops in fields (verse 5) and where irrigation systems were not needed because streams overflowed everywhere (verse 6). Genesis 2: 8-15 describes a special garden (or park) in the region of Eden (or in a flat region, on a plain), located relative to a river that had four branches (verse 10), two of which retain their names in the 21st century, and the two others flowed through regions then well known, perhaps tributaries upstream or channels in a delta downstream. As Adam and Eve were eventually banished from the Garden, many have wanted to find it. God placed a barrier against return (Genesis 3: 24) but there is no suggestion that it remained indefinitely. The bar was on eating from the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22) and the whole Eden event started with and centres on God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We should consider therefore if the whole account of Eden is of a real spiritual event in human life – in our prehistory as well as in each of us as we begin to be capable of relating deliberately to God – but in the form of a parable, a bit like some of those that Jesus told such as the Workers in the Vineyard, the Unjust Servant or Lazarus and the Rich Man. This question illustrates how far from God’s purposes it is to confuse the Book of Salvation with any sort of observer’s report, let alone a scientific textbook.

If Genesis 2:5-7 refers to all of humanity at an earlier time and perhaps in many places, it is linked to the park on the plain by verse 8, where God puts “the man” into it. There an individual woman was created from a part of a man while he slept. Verse 23 links this account to the similarity in the sounds of the words for ‘man’ and for ‘woman’ in Hebrew. Therefore we should be prepared to look more closely at verses 21 to 22 to see if there may be some more specific meaning to the terms chosen for this parable of marital companionship (Genesis 2:18,24). We have already seen how 2:25, 3:7 and 4:1 need not be in temporal sequence but could refer to an ongoing sexual intimacy mandated by God in Genesis 1:28 but corrupted by departure from God’s purposes as soon as couples are aware of their relation to their Creator (Genesis 3:16b). Is the account delicately referring to the ‘bony’ part of the man when he goes to bed with a woman? If so, the account emphasises that a baby girl is as much born of her father as a baby boy is so obviously born of his mother, taking us back to the symmetry of parenthood declared in Genesis 1:27-28. This point appears to be taken up by Job in referring to himself as being poured out like milk which then curdles like cheese (in the womb to form the conceptus). Indeed the Good News Bible cuts through those similes: says Job to God, “you gave my father strength to beget me; you made me grow in my mother’s womb” (Job 10:10).

One final point about the detail of Genesis 2-3 should be made here. God formed humanity from the dust of the earth (2:7), perhaps to be understood with water too (2:6). It wrenches this verse out of context to understand this as the Creator sculpting a lifeless clay statue and then giving it life by blowing into the statue’s nostrils. For verse 19 says exactly the same thing about all the land animals and birds: “the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and birds of the air.” Indeed verse 9 says that “God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground.” The teaching of Genesis is that we share a dependence on God’s fertile soils with the animals and plants – by eating them or clothing ourselves from them (Genesis 1:29, 3:21). If there is extra significance in God breathing into Adam’s nostrils, it cannot be that the Creator does not give breath to the animals. Perhaps it is that human beings have the capacity to breathe back to our Creator: Adam and Eve talked with Lord God after the day’s work in the hot sun (Genesis 3:8ff). Again Job makes clear that Genesis is referring to God’s continuing creative acts in every human being: he says to God, “Remember that you made me from clay” (Job 10:9a),

Young-earth creationism

Some who call themselves Creationists read Genesis with modernistic eyes. As a result they see many contradictions with God’s other book since Christians like Newton, Boyle and Faraday and to this day (see have tried to ‘think God’s thoughts after him’ by careful observation and experiment. They deny the biological evidence for the emergence and extinction of species over millions of years and label those who hold views like those above as “theistic evolutionists”.

Partly this is because they impose scientistic meaning on the commonsense facts stated in Genesis that (for example) tulip bulbs produce tulips, not daffodils, and cows produce cows, not sheep (“after their kind”: Genesis 1:11-12,21,24-25), human beings (and all other living creatures on earth) are made from earth, water and air (and fire too, as Lavoisier and others discovered), each of us returns to dust after our breath ceases (Genesis 3:19) and women are born of a man’s body as well as a woman’s, in what God ordained to be a partnership in a new family home – thus “filling the earth” by spreading over it, not just producing more and more people until the local population is decimated or even wiped out by starvation, disease or war.

Largely though it is because they treat the genealogies in Genesis and the Gospels like modern European aristocracy’s family trees with calendar dates (from times before there were calendars). The Hebrew word translated “begat” in the King James Version of the English Bible is less specific than “impregnated a woman who gave birth to”; in Isaiah 29:23, for example, it clearly means “have descendants.” The genealogies cannot have been meant to be complete because the same lists omit in one place what is included in another. For example, Exodus 6:16-20 lists only five generations between Jacob and Moses. Also the lists clearly have symbolic elements. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:2-17 lists a series of three sets of two times seven generations back to Abraham, where seven is a perfect number like the branches on the candlestick in the Temple. Furthermore, Matthew 1:1 says simply that Jesus was the son of David who was the son of Abraham. The years mentioned in Genesis 5:3-32 are multiples of 5, sometimes with the perfect number 7 substituted for the last one or two 5’s. The reign of a king (or of a dynasty) could have a symbolic number of years attached, while a different number was given in the another document for the king’s actual lifetime or reign.3

The longest that anyone has been able to stretch these numbers is to about 4000 years before Christ. Yet even just in the middle East, there are remains of villages and towns at least 7-9 millenia old, quite apart from the remains around Europe in caves, as statuettes and in the mutations in our genes, of ancestors 12,000 and even 40,000 years ago. So ‘young-earth creationism’ that postulates the creation of the first human pair, the earth and the universe about 6000 years ago flies in the face of what God says in both books.

The biblical writers’ view of creation, on the other hand, is consistent with all the evidence that the universe is billions of years old, life on earth began hundreds of millions years ago and creatures with skeletons and behaviour indistinguishable from ours have been spreading round the globe for 50-100,000 years. What began about 10-12,000 years ago was the humanity turned from hunter-gatherer subsistence in loosely associated family-sized groups to the domestication of grain and livestock in support of human settlements of hundreds and more. The deep theological account of humanity’s relationship to God in Genesis 2 shows remarkable residues of this turning point in the species’ history, from adapting to the environment to shaping and subduing it as the Creator mandated us (Genesis 1:28). God prepared land for people to work on (Genesis 2: 5, 15), before there were any cultivated bushes or crops (2:5) because it was arid marshland (2:5-6) with rivers on all sides. Channelling the water and holding the earth with trees even provided grassland for livestock (2:20). That is why some people think that Eden was at the delta of the Euphrates and Tigris.

The worst thing about anti-scientific creationist thought is that it diverts Christians from obedience to God’s word and distracts non-Christian opponents of such views from the good news of Jesus the Messiah.

Biblical creationism and contemporary science

In the first half of the 19th century, atheists and Christians alike were surprised by the evidence in the rocks that species form and go extinct over many millions of years, as individuals are born, reproduce and die. The problem for Charles Darwin and other believers in a Creator God was, and is, how ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ could be created and sustained by a loving God and indeed be good in God’s eyes. It does nothing to solve the problem of suffering to suppose that God first created a world without suffering that included people with the capacity to turn it into a vale of misery which God continues to sustain. The question remains why God permits suffering on the scale that it occurs.

Another mistake is to invoke intervention by God to explain what currently seems impossible for science to explain. A lawyer can try to calculate probabilities of existence of organs like the eye or the propeller in a bacterium’s tail on the basis that organisms are mere piles of atoms. Since the emergence of the science of physiology in the 19th century, the power of natural systems to create organisation has become increasingly obvious. We are learning more and more about environmentally regulation of the expression of genes, to create new capacities (and incapacities) in individual people. Such mechanisms could account for many convergences in living beings – the appearances of the same organ at many different times and places.6 The Creator holds the causal processes in place without which such organisation could not emerge.

Holding these views about does not make me an “evolutionist” in any scientific sense. The reason is simple: I do not investigate or theorise about evolutionary processes. Indeed, I believe that many people who do – especially colleagues calling themselves “evolutionary psychologists” – are wasting their time unless they use the mathematical tools of inclusive fitness, and even then they are most unlikely to get very far because of the hopelessly sparse bodies of data that are available or liable to be discovered. In my view, a far more productive way of gaining scientific understanding about the distant past to to find out how things work now – particularly how individuals of a species develop within different environments.

This brings us back to the relationship between divine creation and providence (as promised earlier).

“Brought into being”

An important implication that has traditionally been drawn from biblical teaching about creation by God is that God made the world out of nothing. If that was so and God upholds the universe in the same way, as was suggested near the start above (Providence as continuing creation), then if God chose to stop creating, there would be nothing once again.

This understanding of providence has been dismissed on the grounds that it is incredible that God keeps bringing each particle into being as it moves from place to place.7 That argument is however based on the unwarranted assumption that what God created out of nothing was bunches of isolated entities such as atoms or quarks. Clearly, what God created was human beings who influence other people, material objects and social cultures. Equally clearly, political institutions and fundamental particles also have causal powers and susceptibilities of their own sorts. If God ceased to sustain these different sorts of causation, the creation would not instantly cease to exist: rather, there would be (rapidly) increasing chaos.

Indeed, there are observable parallels in personal, social and biological development: these all create organisation out of nothing previously organised in that way. Scientists are now just beginning to work out some of the detailed causal processes by which physical history (e.g. epigenesis) and cultural history (e.g. education) interact during the emergence of a human individual, under the influence of that person’s own reasoned choices when the capacity for intentions has been built up. In other words, we are beginning to read in the book of nature and society the mechanisms upheld by God that give rise to wonderful designs which mere piles of atoms could no more generate than a million monkeys in a million years could write the works of Shakespeare.6,7
David Booth
October 2009
Brief Biography:
David Booth was encouraged to study the Scriptures from an early age and has learnt a lot from academics who investigate the historical situations of the divinely inspired writers. He has published research in sciences ranging from biochemistry to social psychology and focuses increasingly on new findings about human nature that illuminate biblical doctrines such as the image of God and original sin.
Except where stated otherwise, biblical quotations are from the New International Version (Bible Society).
1 Sir Francis Bacon (1605). The advancement of learning, Book 1. “Our Saviour saith, ‘You err, not knowing the Scriptures nor the Power of God’ [Matthew 22:29], laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first, the Scriptures, revealing the Will of God; and then the creatures expressing His Power …” — “the Book of God’s Word” and “the Book of God’s Work.” We might do well to heed his further counsel: “endeavour an endless progress or profic[iency] in both; only … apply both [in] charity and not [a] swelling [pride]; [for] use and not [for] ostentation; and again … do not unwisely mingle or confound those learnings together.”
2 David Booth (1998). Human nature: unitary or fragmented? – biblical language and scientific understanding. Science & Christian Belief 10, 145-162.
3 For an exposition by a former research scientist who has long been a Christian academic scholar of the Bible, see Can we believe Genesis today? by the Rev. Dr. Ernest C. Lucas (IVP, 2001, 2005). 
4 Adrienne Mayor (2000). The first fossil hunters. Paleontology in Greek and Roman times. Princeton University Press.
5 Genesis 3:16 is traditionally cited in the margin of 1 Corinthians 14:34 as the part of “the Law” that Paul is referring to. That cannot be what Paul means. In the context of disorder in the church at Corinth, Paul needed to invoke what Judaism regards as the oral tradition from Moses, as distinct from the written tradition (the Pentateuch) acknowledged also by Christians and Muslims. Paradoxically, the disastrous consequence for the marriage bed of disobeying the Creator’s intentions for men and women (Genesis 1:27-28, 2:23-25) was turned into a prescription for the whole of of private and public life, in the home, in meetings at the synagogue and even for national government. Paul in his desperation to stop both men and women using Christian meetings to attack each other (1 Corinthian 14:29-33; 1 Timothy 2:8,11) invoked the disciplines of the synagogue, right through to theologically meaningful differences between the sexes in the length and covering of the hair on the head (1 Corinthians 11:4-16).
6 Simon Conway Morris (2003). Life’s solution: inevitable humans in a lonely universe. Cambridge University Press. Professor Conway Morris sees the wisdom of the Creator in the processes by which species adapt to survive and exploit the environments they face. See also: idem (2003). The Cambrian “explosion” of metazoans, in G. B. Müller & S.A. Newman (eds.), Origination of organismal form: beyond the gene in developmental and evolutionary biology. MIT Press. It is usually assumed that God also created the chaos (Genesis 1:2) out of which this planet, its living organisms, our social institutions and we individuals who act, reason and experience are all created and each observably develops. However, the Bible explicitly addresses the creating and sustaining of only the terrestrial home for humanity. The Old Testament is silent on any wider cosmos beyond the skies (let alone ultramicroscopically small), while the New Testament’s presentation of Christ as the Word of God who makes everything and holds it together (John 1:3; Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:2) can be extended to cosmology and quantum mechanics only by stretching the writers’ meanings a very long way.
7 Paul Copan and William Craig Lane (2004). Creation out of nothing. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; Leicester: Apollos. In an otherwise fine defence of initial creation ex nihilo as a biblical concept, the authors follow P.L. Quinn (1983) in criticising continuous creation as being implausibly ‘Occasionalist’ (page 149). The critique fails to take into account the possibility that God creates neither matter nor laws but entities that have their persisting identity from effects on other entities and being affected by them, whether those entities be particles or fields, monarchies or democracies, or the subjective experiences or observable achievements of individual human beings. Notice that the concept of causation is inherently temporal: a cause cannot begin after its effect (time-independent equations in physics notwithstanding). The idea that God creates causal powers (not, for example, fundamental particles) was ably expounded by Paul Helm (1993), The providence of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, pp. 83-91 (plus pp. 140-141 and 219-222 regarding the Creator-Provider’s upholding of the causal processes of mental activity). Indeed, views to the contrary, including that God just created timeless laws or fundamental constants, lead rapidly to deism or pantheism. It should be noted that the idea that God’s initiates and continuously sustains causal powers excludes a conception that God is another such cause like the created sorts of causation. The Psalmist got there before all of us. “Your word, O Lord, is eternal … you established the earth and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you” (Psalm 119:89-91)