I watched with trepidation the big debate in the media this week between Bill Nye (of Bill Nye the Science Guy fame) and Ken Ham (a “young earth creationist” who is involved with the Creation Museum south of Cincinnati). The reason why I wasn’t happy with the debate is because I believe that it was an attempt by some to make it a believers v. non-believers argument which it clearly was not. Nye himself in the debate pointed out that many believes accept the scientific record of the age of the earth. But it didn’t stop some wholesale attacks on faith itself and I believe will make some believers draw the conclusion that there is no longer value in reading the creation and many other stories in Genesis.
Ken Ham’s problem is not that he has faith that God is relating truth to him in the Bible. Where he errs is in the type of truth he thinks God is revealing. But, likewise, I fear that we can walk away from the debate thinking the creation and other stories in Genesis are just for people of by-gone days and not needed in our modern sophisticated age. That idea is as much in error as Ken Ham’s dating of the earth.
Years ago, when I was in seminary, my Old Testament professor explained that Genesis is a book of origins. It was to answer people’s questions – “Why are we here? Why do people do bad things? Why are there rainbows? Why are there thorns when I farm? Why do I hate snakes?” Bill Nye would have technical answers to all these questions. But Genesis addresses our hearts and deep yearnings. It sets forth an archetype of humanity and explains, more importantly, who God is. It explains we aren’t accidents but we were intended. It explains why we are all morally flawed but loved anyway. Most of all, it explains the origins of the people who were to become the Jews.
Genesis wasn’t written at the dawn of time. Traditionally it has been attributed to Moses (who lived around 1300 BC) but modern Biblical scholars believe it to come from four main sources and later complied either during the United Kingdom (under David and Solomon (800s BC)) or maybe even as late as during the Exile (500s BC). What is hard to wrap our minds around is that such times were just the blink of an eye ago in the course of time. Even if Ken Ham is correct (and he isn’t) about the Earth’s age, that still places Moses closer to living to our time than Adam’s (whom, again, I believe to be a figure in a story to make a point to us rather than someone who we’ll find the skeleton of one day). The Genesis story is meant to relate truth to us for today, not as a history lesson, but rather why humanity is the way it is and where our answers might lie.
We live in an age where more and more people are populating our planet whose resources are finite. We live in an age where our standard way of living is not sustainable. We live in an age where it is growing impossible to simply stay away from people who are different from us. We live in an age of terrifying weaponry which often far eclipses our spiritual maturity. And yet, at the same time, we live in an age where people’s actions parallel those in the book of Genesis to a remarkable degree (interesting for a work of “fiction” as many would assert today). Can we still learn lessons from it still and not toss it into the dust bin like a old outdated textbook (that it was never meant to be)? That is the real question.
I am grateful that Bill Nye and many other scientists stand up to people like Ham and say that the minds God gives them, and the evidence God places around us, shows that particular reading of the Bible (and understanding of our natural world) is untenable. We are misreading the Bible (any part of it) if we think it is given to us to technically describe what God has done. But in our quest to better understand this incredible reality we find ourselves in, let us remember that long ago spiritual truths were discovered that have not just helped, but also saved many people and can still do so today.
Let us not stop reading Genesis, and considering its implications and callings to us, even as some misuse it and others place no value in it. And let us learn from scientists about this remarkable creation we live in and find ways to be better stewards of it.
Until next time,