Good Questions: Genesis and Science

Reflections from Dr. Howell

I’ve never been one to be troubled that 6 days in Genesis 1 seems to have taken 15 billion years in the science books. Although I have a guarded appreciation for the piety of those who swear it was just 6 days, I’m puzzled and a little embarrassed that school boards across the country still relive the Scopes “monkey trial,” now over a century old.

Clearly, Genesis was written centuries before the advent of science. It’s not a physics textbook. It’s a sermon, a ballad (or as the astrophysicist David Wilkinson put it in my podcast, “a hymn”). It is a bold proclamation of who is the author of the universe, that the world is not here by chance, that God is powerful enough to hurl the stars across billions of light years, and tender enough to mix hues in the petal of a rose.  If we would just look, we would see in our world the “theater of the glory of God.” If we would just listen, we would overhear “creation as a divine composition, a magnificent music, whose measures and refrains rise up to the pleasure and the glory of God” (David Bentley Hart).

Ours is to gawk, jaws dropping open in wonder. Here we share our wonder with other religions, with those who have no religion, little children, even the prehistoric people and prehominids archaeologists have discovered, amazed one and all. We want schools to dazzle the minds of our children with human fossils 2 million years old from Tanzania, dinosaurs from the Gobi, and James Webb telescope photos of pinpoints of light that are entire galaxies, the light having been streaming toward us for billions of years. God did… all that? Wow. Or Wow to the billionth factor.

Genesis stakes out that all this Big Bang, billions of years process is authored by God. There is an order, a meaning, a purpose to it all. It’s God’s – not ours! – and God has entrusted to us stewardship of God’s world. We take care of God’s world, instead of taking over God’s world. There is a pattern, an eternal reality, into which we all live and fit.

Many have asked me Why did God take so long to get around to Jesus? Billions of years passing, with uncoalesced masses in space, dinosaurs, prehominids – and then millennia of human history. Who could fathom when would be the right time? Jesus came under the reign of Augustus, the greatest emperor of the greatest empire; was that God’s counter-cultural point? Christian physicist John Polkinghorne wrote that the world’s “many-billion-year history of evolving fruitfulness will discourage any thought of a Creator who works by magic. The Creator is not a God in a hurry; God is patient and subtle in relation to a world that its Creator has allowed largely to make itself. There is unlikely to be any other way in which love would choose to work.” David Wilkinson (in my podcast with him) answered this with a funny story of birthday cakes…

At the Eagle Pub in Cambridge, March 1953, Francis Crick, heady from discovering DNA earlier in the day with James Watson, declared “Gentlemen, today we have discovered the secret of life.” But had they? DNA has yet to explain our transcendent impulses, or the nobility of sacrifice. We are more than the biology that we are – although if biology can explain spirituality, if cells in the brain are our spirituality, is it any less profound and meaningful? God made us this way.

As we conclude our questions around science, I’m drawn to Sir Isaac Newton’s reflection on all of his impressive learning: “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” God made it so. Or it just is so.