People have said, “If the Bible gets it wrong on the very first page, how can it be trusted to have any value for our lives on any matter”? “If it is impossible for God to lie, how could He have inspired the book of Genesis?” “If the Bible is not inspired, then why should it be valued above the writings of any other human philosopher or poet?” As a result, many have given up the “faith of their fathers”, and become agnostic or even abandoned the idea of a Creator completely!
While some might wish that the author of Genesis would have held a recent degree in the sciences, I believe that it is wrong to blame the decline of faith at the feet of the Biblical writer. Who is to blame for the demise of Christian faith? Let’s examine the players in this saga.
God, the One who Inspired Genesis
If only God would have dictated the creation account to the author in terms that complied with modern science, we would not be in the fix we are in! Shall we lay the blame with God? He could have brought the author “up to speed” and inspired a creation narrative that would have "stood the test of time", and yet for whatever reason He chose not to. Instead, He inspired a creation story that fit into the cosmology of the primary audience, shepherds in ancient Palestine. Regardless of what we might believe God should have done, we must accept what He has done! It is left with modern readers to decide what they will do with how God chose to tell the Creation story to shepherds. We can either choose to praise God for being such an excellent communicator, one who doesn't speak over the heads, over the technology, over the worldview of the people He reveals Himself to, or we can get miffed at God for not speaking to our cosmology and walk away from Him. The choice is ours. However, I would propose that before we make a big decision like that, we should carefully consider a couple of important questions. What is the more responsible thing to do? What is the more scientific thing to do? I would submit that it may be a little reckless to make such an important decision on impulse. Don't give up on the Creator, simply because He chose to communicate the way that He did to an ancient people group from a long lost culture.
The Author of Genesis
If we believe that the Bible is inspired by God then it is hard to lay fault with the author. How could he be expected to paint word-pictures beyond what God inspired him to write? Is it even possible to write a creation narrative that would be understandable to a people with an ancient worldview and at the same time resonate well in the halls of 21’st century science? I would submit that if the Creation Narrative in Genesis would have painted an image of our Cosmology, communication would have failed to the primary audience of Genesis. As much as we might wish that the author would have spoken directly to us, he did not, and can hardly be blamed for not doing so. One thing for sure is that if I lose my faith in God because of what the author of Genesis wrote, that says more about me than it does about him!
Could it be that Biblical interpreters and commentators have not done their due diligence in offering solutions to the apparent dichotomy between modern science and the Genesis account of the creation event? As I look at all the books on my shelf, filled with ideas and proposals as to how the ancient Hebrew words of Genesis could be construed to fit the discoveries of modern science, it would be hard to accuse Christian apologists of having been slack in this area. A wide spectrum of solutions have been offered, from the plausible to the truly bizarre! While a few of the ideas that have been presented have been able to sustain the faith of some for a time, other proposals have probably brought more ridicule on the Christian faith than they have defended against. And yet one has to give an “A” for effort! These people, whatever their competency, whatever their motivation, truly believe in a Supreme Creator God, and are doing their best to maintain their faith and encourage the faith of others.
Some like to blame scientists for the demise of faith in our world. Some even suggest that most scientists are "amoral hedonists that use their belief system as a way to justify their "lifestyle" and encourage others to join them". This criticism is unfortunate! Most scientists are disciplined, rational thinkers that live lives that are no more amoral than most Christians. Their dedication and devotion to their careers have been instrumental in bringing us advancements in health care, communication, transportation, food production, and all the modern conveniences of life that we all take for granted. While there may have been a few colorful characters who purposely counterfeited evidence to support atheistic propositions, most scientists are honest pursuers of pure science, seekers of ultimate truth. Many recent discoveries in biology and genetics are actually disproving long-held theories of Darwinian evolution. Astrophysicists are discovering more evidence every year that this universe is so finely tuned, on so many levels to permit life, that belief in random causes alone for our existence is virtually implausible. Statisticians and mathematicians agree. Scientists are not suppressing these discoveries. With each passing month, more exciting chapters are being written in the "book of nature" that give fascinating new evidence for a Creator God. Rather than criticizing our scientists, we need to be thanking God for them!
Our Own Worst Enemy
Who then can we blame for the empty churches of our world? I believe that if the truth be known, or could be admitted, we have been our own worst enemy on this issue! It is my growing conviction that the biggest barrier that we have in understanding the statements of Scripture, is that the Christian Church has developed unfounded traditions and convictions about how inspiration works. Rather then being so quick to point fingers of blame at others, we should be carefully examining the very premise of our understandings! Perhaps it is not that Genesis is is to blame for our woes as much as it is our unfounded expectations of Genesis. This is not to say that I am suggesting that the Creation Narrative of Genesis was not inspired by God, that it did not have a specific message to the people it was originally written to, or that it has no value for us today. I believe that it was, it did and it does!
Whenever Scripture or the findings of science pose a challenge to our belief system, rather than be thrown for a loop, I believe what we need to carefully consider is, "what is the most responsible response?" When the words of Genesis 1 and 2 speak of concepts that do not match our perceptions of reality, our current science, what is the most responsible reaction a Christian can take? Should we toss everything that have believed and conclude that we have been following cunningly devised fables? Should we get angry at scientists for discovering that the world is not flat? Should we reject the findings of science as "the devil's sophistry"? Should we develop whole new disciplines of study that attempt to bridge the gap of ancient cosmologies to our own, through mental and linguistic gymnastics?
Perhaps the more responsible response would be to carefully examine some of our most propositional beliefs, such as our understanding of the nature of inspiration. How does God communicate Himself to us? How does He reveal Himself to us? How does He inspire people to write words that give us the principles of His character and His work in the Universe and our lives? We have made some assumptions about this, but what are they based on? Most Christians believe that they have a real handle on how inspiration works. Where did they get these ideas? At what point did concepts of the nature of inspiration become Christian dogma? Can this dogma be trusted?
In the case of the Genesis account of creation, I believe that it is this dogma that has really let us down! In essence what has happened is that people have lost faith, not because of the words of Genesis, but because it says things that they they did not expect or believed it should say, based on their understanding of how inspiration works. However, before we slip out the back door, I believe we need to ask ourselves, "was it Genesis that let us down, or our doctrine of how inspiration works that let us down"?
I would propose that if we had a proper understanding of the nature of inspiration, a better appreciation for God being an excellent "cross-cultural communicator", the proposals of modern science would not be seen as any kind of challenge to Christian faith and our churches and universities would likely be full of dedicated people, worshiping the Creator of the Universe, including many sincere scientists!
If we really want to understand the Biblical statements about Creation and the cosmos I believe that it is important to examine what we really believe about the nature of inspiration, how it works, and what impact that has on discussions of faith as it intersects with modern science.