Bible: Fantasy-Land? Part 2
What truth is communicated in Genesis One?
A remarkable feature in the text is that God creates the entire Universe through speech. He said “let there be light” and there was. My son learnt how to code through a tutorial that outlined the intricacy involved in making an animated monkey pick up a banana. Even this simple command required a complex sequence of numbers, letters and symbols. Yet when it worked, the written code produced a drastically different form: a colourful world with a monkey picking up a pixelated banana and no number/letter sequence in sight.
Francis Crick, who was an atheist, likened DNA to the "language of life" when he presented his ground-breaking findings of the DNA double helix. Genesis One presents an image of a God so powerful that all He has to do is speak life into existence, using the language of DNA that He is fluent in. Computer code seems incomprehensible gibberish to the untrained eye, yet is capable of forging what you’d least expect to arise from a binary sequence: detailed, colourful, ordered, simulated worlds with animated creatures. You could liken this to God using His voice and unlimited power to speak the Cosmos into being.
But if Genesis One is meant to be interpreted literally, then the passage would have to describe, to pre-computer generations, how God’s creative language is similar to programming code. It would have to describe to pre-quantum generations how God creates -- possibly by collapsing the wave function of atoms into concrete forms through observing the wave’s infinite possibilities. Instead, I propose that Genesis One was written as a narrative with beautifully simplistic phrases, effectively communicating God’s power, abilities and foresight. Yes, it conveys a massive oversimplification of how God created the Universe, but the symbolic format packs a serious punch and expresses everything that we need to know. Genesis One articulates Truth – Truth that is broader than a purely scientific explanation and can resonate with every generation that hears it.
7-day Creation – interpret literally or symbolically?
Why does the account state that all of God’s creative acts took place over the course of a week? How is the term “day” meant to be interpreted if not as a literal 24-hour period of time? In the Hebrew language of the Genesis account, “day” can be translated as an ‘epoch’ or an ‘age’ of time. In the Bible it says that from God’s perspective “a thousand years in [His] sight are like a day that has just gone by”. I think we could rationally translate this message as pointing to an extremely old Universe which science dates at 14 billion years. This figure is partly calculated using the speed of light to measure the journey time of light from distant galaxies arriving at our telescopes. Therefore, if it is proven that the speed of light varied at different stages of the Universe's development, then the age of the Universe will have to be recalibrated.
Seven is a symbolic number in the Bible that represents wholeness and completion. The narrative structure thus communicates the Universe as skilfully made, not a cosmic accident. The Universe is perfect for the mission that God has prepared for it. And the number seven paired with the Hebrew translation for “day” signifies that Creation took a long period of time to reach its fulfilment when humans entered the scene. At this point God rests. He will not create anything new until the New Creation.
Two adjacent Creation accounts – what’s the point?
In Genesis chapter two, however, we get a different image – a God who is not afraid to get His hands dirty and get stuck in, but only when it comes to humanity. Later on in the Bible, God is described as a Potter and we the clay, but here in chapter two we get to see this Potter in action when He makes humans “from the dust of the ground”. Is this meant to be interpreted literally? Some scientists are exploring whether the origin of life began in clay, so maybe it is a hint to aid that discovery. But I would argue instead that this narrative aims to convey the importance of Humanity in the eyes of its Creator. God spoke everything else into existence; almost in a detached, indifferent way compared to the hand-crafting involved in forming human beings.
Imagine a head architect instructing workers to build a skyscraper – this architect utilises his authority to read out instructions to the workers and they do the heavy lifting and hard graft. This architect supervises the project from afar but still with a meticulous eye for detail, and at the end he is proud of the outcome. However, if you saw that same architect painstakingly fashioning an object to go inside the building, that might get your attention and make you want to find out more. What is so special about that object that the architect trusts no one else to mould it but himself? In Genesis Two, God’s personally hand-crafted creations are made and given names: Adam and Eve.
Were Adam and Eve historical?
Were they real people? Paul refers to Adam as if he were a historical figure in some Biblical letters and Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam. This causes embarrassment for some Christians who don’t want to be associated with the controversial connotations attached to the Adam and Eve story which seems to defy science. To avoid the necessity of accepting them as real people, some Christians argue that the whole Bible should be interpreted as a narrative – none of it is meant to be literal history. Then you don’t have to accept Paul’s statements about Adam and Jesus’ genealogy, as they are just myths and legends with a purely symbolic meaning.
The issue I have with this reasoning is that it weakens Christianity’s offer of hope if everything it teaches is mythological. If Jesus’ resurrection is just a symbolic story, with no basis in historical fact, then what good news does it have to communicate with the world? Paul said “if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins.” How do you explain historical documents that testify to the disciples’ executions because they would not renounce their faith in Jesus, even when threatened with death? If someone asked you to give up believing Harry Potter and the wizarding world were real or face torture and death, I’m pretty sure that would snap you out of your escapist fantasy.
But if the Bible does teach historical fact, alongside Truth in narrative form, then are Christians doomed to be forever mocked by atheists for accepting the historicity of Adam and Eve? Well, even in random, unguided evolution there must have been a first female to propagate the rest of the ‘mutated’ hominin species. Darwinian evolution is powered by random, beneficial mutations giving rise to new species. But if the mutations are random, then you wouldn’t expect humans to arise in multiple locations around the globe simultaneously – the descendants must originate from the first of the new species of its type. So, if there was a first female hominin, then we may as well name her, and that's exactly what scientists have done – "Mitochondrial Eve" is her name!
Two creation accounts are presented next to each other in Genesis One and Two. The first shows the order and progression of Creation from the beginning of time. However, just in case humans look like an afterthought in this model (created last) or seem of equal importance to everything else (given one day of God’s attention like the sky, stars and sea creatures were) then God possibly inspired the second account to put humans front and centre, where they were created first with His undivided attention and entrusted with jobs. We are here for a very special purpose and God wanted to clearly communicate this and how He views us. Not through lengthy, scientific, factual accounts, but with beautifully simple imagery containing echoes from other fields of knowledge also designed by the Creator.
Whilst I’m making the case that Genesis chapters one and two are narrative in their structure, I can’t deny that I find the sequence of the 7-day Creation curiously coincidental with current scientific discoveries. Day One records God speaking light into existence and Big Bang Cosmologists theorise that photons were created at the moment of the Singularity stretching outwards. Photons are light particles. Many atheists mock the Day 4 account of Creation which states that God made the stars and sun after the formation of light. So, I was intrigued by the discovery of photons existing before star formation!
Some Origin of Life theorists are exploring the possibility that life began in deep sea vents, which would concur with Day Four’s version of sea creatures being the first life forms on Earth. And we know that humans were the last species to arrive on the scene as Day 6 also indicates. The 7-day account portrays a journey through time of increasing complexity and greater diversity of life-forms, and that is what Darwinian evolution attests too as well. The Genesis account was written roughly 3500 years ago and Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ was published in 1859, but bizarrely they both paint a similar trajectory. There are, however, discrepancies between Darwin’s version of events and the Bible’s. This is more of a problem for Christians who try to force a literal reading onto Genesis One, rather than seeing it through a narrative lens. And Darwin’s theory has some huge issues of its own, but I’ll save that for another time…
What does the evidence point to?
If God is real and inspired the writing of the Bible, then you should expect to find echoes of factual truth communicated in the symbolic/narrative passages. Hence why the account can be read and understood by ancient generations, as well as advanced civilizations into the future. The same conclusion should be accessible to all generations, irrespective of its scientific progress -- that God designed the whole universe with care, attention to detail, purpose and love.
Having said all that, if Science somehow showed evidence for a young universe forming within a 7 day period, this wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. I believe God is the infinite, all-powerful Creator: “what is impossible with man is possible with God”. If God happened to have good reasons for creating in a literal week, then that is well within the parameters of His omnipotence to achieve. But I accept the 14 billion age dating of the universe because of the huge body of evidence in its favour and I believe that scientific findings should point to its Creator more and more as knowledge advances. This appears to be happening with the ongoing discoveries regarding the intricate, razor-edge fine-tuning of the Universe. But I would also argue that an extremely old universe presents an even more mind-boggling view of its Creator, than a young universe formed during a single week. Who is this God that dedicates such a lengthy period of time to form a habitat for us? Especially when we live within it so briefly by comparison. It makes me desperate to explore more about Him. What purpose does He intend for me in this lifetime and what has He in store for me in the New Creation to come?
Are you curious or incredulous right now?
References & Footnotes  Gen 1:3-5  See a previous post on ‘Miracles & the Quantum Realm’  Psalm 90:4  See four-part series on ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’ And the four part ‘My Purpose?' series.  Isaiah 65:17  Isaiah 64:8  Genesis 2:7  1 Tim 2:13, Romans 5:12-21  1 Cor 15:17 – see my four-part series on ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’  This poses an issue for random, unguided evolution for starters – you need a randomly mutated male and female of the new species to arise at the same time, and then happen to find each other, in order to have offspring. Not every species can have viable offspring with another – if they are too genetically dissimilar their fertility will not be a match and so no offspring propagated.  See ‘My Purpose?’ Series  Photon epoch - Wikipedia  Luke 18:27