Picking up where I left off in my last entry: there are, admittedly, a number of problems with my effort to reconcile the book of Genesis with the findings of modern science.
I think the need for a perfect reconciliation lessens somewhat when we consider the poetic structure of the Creation narrative: in the first three days, God is pictured creating different spaces, then filling those spaces in the next three days.
He created the heavens and the earth on the First Day, then fills the heavens with stars on the Fourth Day; He created the sea and the sky on the Second Day, then fills them with fish and flying creatures on the Fifth Day; He created the field and the forests on the Third Day, then fills them with animal life on the Sixth Day.
So, it’s clearly not intended as a mere chronological account of the stages of creation. It’s meant as poetry.
But, there’s still enough of an at least symbolic (not “figurative” or “metaphorical,” but symbolic) correlation between the events of Genesis and what we know from actual science that it seems to beckon us to look deeper to find that reconciliation. Which, admittedly, comes with a few obstacles.
They’re not insurmountable obstacles, and some of them are problems they would have had at the time of writing, even without the new information provided by the scientific revolution.
The Second Day is pretty easy: that was the epoch when proto-earth resolved itself from an orb of fiery, molten rock into the elements of land, sea, and atmosphere. As the Earth cooled, liquid water collected in the lower elevations and vapor collected in the atmosphere. I’ve heard skeptics ridicule this passage, but I don’t get why—the sky is blue because this passage is literally true. Granted it’s an archaic way of putting it (as we would expect something written more than 3,000 years ago to be), but it’s straightforward and literally true, because the atmosphere is, in fact, a literal “dome” or “vault of water.” It’s not liquid water, so maybe that’s the hang-up, but there’s nothing in the passage demanding it to have been liquid rather than vapor.
(Embarrassing correction: No, the sky isn’t blue because of water vapor. It’s because the air molecules of the upper atmosphere reflect most of the sun’s light back into space, letting only the shorter wavelength light rays through, which are blue. But, it should be understandable that Genesis 1 doesn’t elucidate that, since they had no concept of the electromagnetic spectrum and light refraction 3,000 years ago, and explaining things like that wasn’t the point anyway.)
The Third Day is a little bit more tricky, because it has God creating plant life prior to the creation of the sun and the moon and the stars. As I understand, plants need sunlight to live. Also, the sun happens to be much older than the earth, in actual fact.
But, there are a couple of mitigating points to consider. On the Fourth Day, it doesn’t specifically read that God created the sun, moon, and stars. It reads that He said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky.” It’s possible, according to the terms of the passage, that they existed in their present form prior to the Fourth Day (as they would have to for the earth to exist, from what we know about the formation of the solar system), but God didn’t make them visible on earth yet, because the atmosphere was still too opaque to admit light. So, the Fourth Day wasn’t necessarily when God created the sun, moon, and stars; it was the period in which He made them visible on earth, to separate day from night.
There remains, however, the question of how vegetation would be possible on the Third Day, prior to the time when sunlight would reach the surface of the earth.
It might be that what was created wasn’t plant life as we know it, but the microbial life, like cyanobacteria and fungi, which set the stage for the evolution of higher forms of plant life. Primitive microbial life could survive on chemical energy without photosynthesis. It also transformed the earth’s ecology by oxygenating the atmosphere and fertilizing the soil over hundreds of millions of years. Where the passage reads that “God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it…,’” perhaps what was meant was that God created the conditions that later gave rise to plant life?
That might be a bit of a reach on my part, and I’m not sure I’m qualified to argue the point from a geological or biological standpoint. I honestly don’t know how to reconcile it definitively. But I do know that whatever the passage means and whatever better explanation there may or may not be, the problem before us is not because this passage is simply the product of a primitive, pre-scientific understanding, because the original Bronze Age readers (and writer) would have had the same problem with this passage that we do. They didn’t have terms like photosynthesis and chlorophyll to explain it, but they knew just as well as we do that plants need sunlight. They knew what happens in winter when the light fades, and many ancient cultures developed elaborate mythologies about the apparent winter death of their solar deities to correspond with the seasonal death of their crops and orchards, so the ancient Israelites would have had the same problem with this verse that we have: they knew plants can’t live in the absence of sunlight, so they were unlikely to invent a story about plants existing on the earth prior to the existence of the sun.
The Fifth Day is pretty spot-on, though. Modern biology has it that animal life began in the sea, and that’s what we read happened here.
Also, the English rendering, “…and let birds fly above the earth” is a mistranslation. The Hebrew for “bird” is sippor, but the word here is op, which is a much more general word meaning “winged creature,” which would include insects, which were among the earliest life forms to evolve.
Then, there’s the expanded explanation of what happened on the Sixth Day, found in Genesis chapter 2. Man was created, found that he was alone on all the earth, so God caused the man “to fall into a deep sleep,” and then formed the woman from what He had “taken out of the man.”
This could mean that in this single, isolated instance, God personally and directly intervened to affect the course of creation and evolution by literally taking an entire rib out of the first and only behaviorally modern homo sapiens sapiens man, from which to fashion Eve, the first behaviorally modern woman.
Or, this could be an approximation of what happened, using what few Bronze Age terms were available to explain it.
Ancient people, of course, knew about inherited traits and that a man’s “seed” is the vehicle by which those traits are delivered. But, a Bronze Age reader wouldn’t have known about inherited traits in terms of genes and phenotypes and DNA, much less about dominant genes versus recessive genes. As far as they were concerned, offspring simply bore the traits of parents, so being of a man’s “seed” is the same as bearing his image and inheriting his likeness. We know that not to be entirely the case today, though—we know that inheriting a person’s DNA isn’t the same as inheriting his or her traits, because recessive genes don’t express themselves in every generation. A person can carry the gene for a particular trait, but if it’s only a recessive gene, inherited from only one parent, the trait isn’t expressed—that person is just “holding it,” so to speak, for expression in later generations. If that person has children with another person carrying the same gene (or “allele,” to be technically accurate), the trait is 25-percent more likely to be expressed, and as their children have children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, it becomes more likely to be passed on to successive generations, because the trait has become more common in the gene pool.
So, the account in Genesis 2 could be a way to convey that Eve was, in fact, literally made from material taken out of the first behaviorally modern man (or the first man to carry the genetic instructions for a behaviorally modern man), but not from something as messy and inefficient as an entire rib after he took a long nap, but from his DNA after he “went to sleep” in a less literal sense—the sense used by later biblical writers.
Of course, the writer might have just written that she was born of Adam’s “seed,” but that would have conveyed an entirely different message about an entirely different kind of relationship.
Scholars have long debated whether Adam (Hebrew for “man”) should be read here as a proper name or according a more generalized, literal meaning. So, “the man” in view in this passage might have referred to an original man in particular, or to early man as a species, or some combination thereof.
So, the original, lone bearer of the mutation constituting the Great Leap Forward would have passed on his genetic material to his offspring, but perhaps they carried it only as a recessive allele as they, in turn, passed it on to their offspring, and so on and so forth. Eventually, generations later, it became fixed as a dominant trait in but two distant cousins, a man and a woman, who found a kind of paradise in finding each other after their lifelong isolation from being unable to relate to other apparent members of their species.
After all, humanity wasn’t truly “made in the image of God” until God’s image was borne by a man and a woman: “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them.”
So, the “Adam” in view in the expanded narrative of chapter 2 might not have been the original bearer of the mutation that amounted to the Great Leap Forward, but inherited it from a kind of proto-Adam. Eve, however, was the first woman to bear it as a dominant trait, and so became the mother of our race—a race bearing the phenotype in question as a dominant trait, and the two of them became the standard-bearers for humanity in their relationship with our Creator, so that our collective relationship with God would eventually stand or fall on theirs.
The 20th-century discovery of DNA and the advent of the scientific study of genetics also provide an avenue to consider the story of Noah’s Ark anew.
I’m wide open to the possibility that the story is literally true in every respect, but I don’t know that a sincere faith in the God of Jesus Christ necessarily demands it. And, when I read it from a different angle of interpretation, my awe and wonder at God’s power and genius—both in His creation and in His revelation—are very often enriched for it.
When I read it—a story about one man preserving all life on the planet through a vessel designed by God, I can’t help but be reminded of the fact that a human being and an earthworm are 70-percent genetically identical. A human being and a chimpanzee—our nearest evolutionary relative—are about 98 percent identical. To varying degrees, we share common DNA with all life on this planet; the more recently we branched away on the evolutionary tree, the more genetic material we have in common.
As the most recently evolved and most advanced species on this planet, we carry the sum total of Earth’s evolutionary history within each and every cell in our bodies. In a very literal sense, a single human being is a living embodiment of all life on Earth. We don’t contain all of the branches of the evolutionary tree, of course, but we contain the main line of ancestors, at some primitive stage, for virtually all life in existence and in extinction. In that respect, we are apes and tigers and wolves and rodents and earthworms and slugs and amoebae and billions of other creatures besides. We are not just the Omega to the Alpha that emerged at the dawn of the Sixth Day, but the abbreviated total of everything in-between.
Once our mapping and comprehension of the human genome are complete, and if we develop sufficiently advanced biological technology in the future (and robots to operate it), if some kind of global catastrophe befalls us and eradicates all life on Earth, but only one human being survives (or just one human cell), it’s theoretically possible that the vast majority of animal life could be restored, in time, from the information contained within just one cell of that person’s body.
Every single one of us, then, is a sort of “Noah’s Ark” in our own right. In truth, we’re each made up of millions and millions of little Noah’s Arks.
Now, I don’t know that that was the author’s intent for the story of Noah’s Ark. I’m not offering any of this as anything but speculation on my part. Some, or most, or even all of what I’ve written here might be what these stories are really about, but I’m not dogmatic about any of it, because I just don’t know with any certainty. And despite claims to the contrary, I don’t believe anybody knows with any certainty.
What I do know is this: Jesus Christ rose from the dead. I can prove that, and I believe I have proven that, as much as anything can be proven. And that’s not because my debate skills are such that I have any unique ability to prove things like that; contrary to some of my critics, it’s not because I have any special Jedi mind tricks or extraordinary powers of persuasion up my sleeve. It’s because the nature of the Event itself is such that it lends itself to relatively simple confirmation for anyone willing to honestly look into it—to look into it without preconception, prejudice, or a pre-set agenda that depends upon it being either true or untrue. You don’t need “faith” or superstition or suspension of disbelief or any amount of childhood conditioning to believe the resurrection. These do more to obscure and confuse the truth than they ever do to illuminate it. All you need is a resolution to be honest and to follow the truth wherever it leads, and then God Himself will provide you with faith, once you’re confronted with the facts themselves and respond to them without reservation or qualification. It is through the facts, actually, that He provides faith—not the other way around.
I know the resurrection to be true. As a naked fact of history, I know it to be true. That’s my starting point.
Because of that, I trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he affirmed the truth of the Scripture.
I also know that the earth and the universe weren’t made in six literal 24-hour days, and that God didn’t personally and directly mold each and every individual species of animal life out of clay in its present form.
I also know that it isn’t the Bible that asks me to believe those things—just Christians. And Christians have been wrong en masse before.
Granted, believing the resurrection means believing in the miraculous—in a God who intervenes in history. And, believing in Jesus means believing what he believed, and he seemed to uphold the truth of the stories of Noah and Adam and the others we find in Scripture.
I can’t follow Jesus Christ, then, without also upholding the truth of those stories. But, in what way they’re true—and what way Jesus held them to be true—isn’t so clearly established. Unlike the resurrection, their truth doesn’t always depend on them being literal and historically factual in every respect. I’m completely open to the literal truth of Noah fitting at least two living specimens of every single form of animal life on earth into the ark, if someone can come up with a plausible explanation for how that happened, along with an explanation for there being absolutely no geological or sedimentary evidence for a worldwide flood. But—and, again, unlike the resurrection—I’m not sure any of that is the point.
There were more than a few early Church Fathers, for instance, who upheld the literal, factual, historical truth of the resurrection and miracles of Jesus, but who also taught that when the plain, ordinary meaning of a story can’t be accepted, for whatever reason, there must be some kind of allegorical truth God intends to be found. Origen, for instance, took the teachings of Jesus literally (probably inappropriately in this regard) and seriously enough to actually castrate himself, but was known for allegorizing many of the stories of the Old Testament.
My objection to Young Earth Creationism, though, is not that I have any trouble believing that God intervenes to do the miraculous, nor that I have any problems acknowledging the supernatural or the paranormal, per se. And, it wouldn’t be accurate to characterize my own interpretation of Genesis as allegory. For the most part, I find that when it’s read plainly and literally (but not superficially) on its own terms, yet recognizing the constraints of language—not just primitive, pre-scientific Bronze Age language, but all language—the general picture we get from Genesis, while not exactly identical, looks much, much, much more like what we can see through the lens of modern physics, cosmology, and evolutionary biology than it does the crude, cartoonish finger-painted picture given to us by six-day, Young Earth Creationism.
No, I believe God is more than capable of intervening at will, but—from what I read in Scripture—I don’t believe it’s His way to do that directly, except as the rarest of exceptions. Also, the strict distinction we often make between “natural” and “supernatural” isn’t entirely biblical. As I’d mentioned in my previous entry, that’s something that’s crept in from paganism and polytheism, not something indigenous to the Bible.
But, I’ll have to devote my next blog entry to explaining what I mean by that. For now, there remains one more glaring obstacle to reconciliation of the book of Genesis, and the rest of the Bible, with the scientific discoveries that have shaped the modern age.
In particular, one scientific discovery represents a significant dilemma to basic Christian teachings.
If the Theory of Evolution is true, then that means Adam, and every other form of life on earth, evolved through natural selection.
“Natural selection” is, of course, just a fancy, sciencey way of saying “death”—specifically, “death that precludes reproduction”: variation comes about by way of random genetic mutation, which cumulatively results in different traits emerging over successive generations, but if a new trait turns out to be a liability to survival rather than an advantage, its bearers tend to die before they can reproduce, so the trait doesn’t get passed on. By process of elimination through death, the mutations that turn out to be advantageous adaptations are naturally selected to survive and proliferate.
So, Adam’s existence would have come about only after uncounted millions of generations lived and died before him.
Paul wrote, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…”
Not only that, but the Curse of the Fall brought about the persistence of entropy itself throughout the universe, because, we read, the Atonement and the Resurrection are God’s answer to and salvation from the Curse, not just for humanity, but for the entire universe:
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
The New Testament teaches that Christ took upon himself the curse wrought by Adam, and by descending—first into flesh and blood as a Member of the human race, and then into the grave—he fulfilled the requirement of death incurred by Adam upon the entire universe. Then, by rising again from death—first in a bodily resurrection, and then to the right hand of God—he took all of creation with him, in a sense, thereby redeeming the entire universe: a redemption to be consummated and completed when he returns at the end of history:
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
But, if Adam evolved through natural selection, i.e., death, how then can Adam be culpable for the existence of death? How can death be a “curse” resulting from Adam’s sin if death was part of the process that brought about Adam’s existence in the first place? And if death isn’t, after all, a punishment upon Adam’s rebellion against God, then what meaning do Jesus’ death and resurrection have?
Again—I believe a person can accept the truth of the stories of Genesis without necessarily believing them in the literal and factual sense in every respect. But, I don’t see that the same option exists for the resurrection. Without the resurrection as a literal, historical fact, Christianity would be nothing but a hollow shell. If it didn’t really happen, all we’re left with is a nice story with no relevance to real life. It would still make for a great template for superhero movies and fantasy literature, but it would be utterly worthless as the basis for a philosophy of life.
For the resurrection to be real, the Atonement also has to have been real—Jesus’ death has to have held a transcendent, spiritual and cosmic meaning. That’s what the resurrection signifies: the One condemned by the powers of this fallen world has been vindicated by God and, through him, God has reversed the curse of death and redeemed humanity and the universe from its final and lasting grip. Without the Atonement, there might still be the social implications of the Son of God being condemned and crucified by the civil and religious elites of the day, but it doesn’t seem to me that God would go to such lengths or put His Son through so much for something as comparatively trivial as a political statement. Without the broader, cosmic meaning of the Atonement, Jesus’ crucifixion would be an absurd tragedy to be mourned, not a triumph to be celebrated and validated through the resurrection.
So, Young Earth Creationists and other Christians who reject the Theory of Evolution do have a point—there does at least seem to be a legitimate conflict between the Atonement and the idea of Natural Selection.
I happen to know for a fact that the resurrection actually happened, though. And, I happen to think that the science is pretty much conclusive on the Theory of Evolution.
And, for reasons to be explained more fully in my next entry, to not embrace the findings of modern science, and to choose willful ignorance over knowledge, to hide from new information, even out of—especially out of– commitment to the Bible is actually a betrayal of everything it teaches.
So, as unlikely as it might seem up front, there must some way to reconcile the two.
The Scripture doesn’t say in so many words what that way is, but there are clues.
First, Paul wrote, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
This thought came right after Paul established that all alike have sinned, and none are justified by their own merits, by their own good deeds or character or nature:
“No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now, apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter what group you fall into—Jew or Gentile, Greek or barbarian, male or female, free or slave—because everybody’s under the same curse, living by the same fallen, corrupt nature, and is saved through the same faith, by the grace of the same God.
Paul goes on to explain, as he does in his other writings, that the patriarch Abraham was a prototype and example of the faith in Christ through which we are justified and saved.
Abraham, of course, lived about 2,000 years before Christ. We learn from Paul and other teachers, including Jesus himself, that there is no true righteousness or salvation apart from Jesus Christ, yet we read that Abraham—who lived and died two-millennia before Christ—exemplified the faith to which we’re called for salvation.
We’ve already discussed how both modern physics and ancient scripture teach that time is not as rigid and absolute as we perceive it to be. It’s elastic, subjective to physical parameters of mass and velocity and gravity.
Evidently, it isn’t as linear or one-directional as we perceive it to be, either. At least, not from God’s perspective, it isn’t.
According to the Scripture, Christ’s atonement was applied backwards in time to people who lived and died before his death and resurrection.
It’s a little bit beyond the scope of this discussion, but still worth pointing out as a preview to a future blog entry, but it reads elsewhere that the gospel of salvation through Christ was “a mystery kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now (in the 1st century) revealed to the saints.” Paul said it’s “the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God.”
That means people in Abraham’s time didn’t know about it. Moses didn’t know about it. Adam and Eve, Enoch, Noah, Jethro of Midian, Naaman the Syrian, the widow of Zarephath, and countless others reckoned as “righteous” in the Scripture were in no position to know about the Messiah’s death and resurrection, nor about the resultant Atonement and Redemption.
Also, there are passages in the Old Testament in which the Second Person of the Trinity is seen acting in his High Priestly role on behalf of people who lived and died long before the Son of God was born on earth, yet we read that Jesus Christ was qualified for that role only because of what he did on earth.
So, all those people who lived and died before Christ was born still benefited from what Christ accomplished. It happened within time, at a certain point in history, but God applied the blessings accomplished by it throughout all time, and to people who were not and could not have been conscious of it, because God exists beyond space and time. When Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he also ascended beyond space and time. So, there has never been a time in the history of the universe when the Man from Nazareth—the One with nail-scarred hands, born to the young bride of an impoverished Jewish carpenter in an obscure province of the Roman Empire—was not dwelling in the very heart of the Godhead, interceding with God on behalf of fallen humanity.
This raises questions and considerations long ignored—willfully, stubbornly, and disgracefully ignored by mainstream Christianity—about what it means to be “in Christ” and whether a person must be conscious of being “in Christ,” and on what terms. It raises questions about whether people like Socrates and Gandhi or that hypothetical pygmy in the deepest, darkest jungles of South America who’s never heard of Christianity could, in theory, be saved after all.
In other words, there is no question that Jesus is the Only Savior, the Only Way to be Saved. He is. However, in what way “Jesus is the only way” is another question entirely, and one that mainstream Christianity typically fails to explain in any biblically-thorough or morally-cognizant manner.
But, that might best be left to another blog entry.
The point I want to make in this entry is that if the blessings of the Atonement were applied across time, forward and backwards, future and past, then why wouldn’t the Curse have been applied on the same terms?
The Atonement, after all, is God’s answer to the Curse. The Atonement settles the karmic debt, so to speak, incurred in the Fall of Man. It balances mankind’s spiritual ledger before God, which was covered in red by the Curse, and as such, it’s the inverse and opposite of the Curse.
It is all but explicitly stated in Scripture that the blessings of the Atonement were applied across time in both directions. Implied in that is the suggestion that the Curse, as the karmic opposite of the Atonement, also applied equally to Adam’s future and his past.
As in, even though the Fall occurred at a specific point in time and (pre)history, the resultant Curse applied across time, all the way back to the beginning, when the process of cosmic entropy first began in the moments immediately following the Big Bang.
So, Natural Selection and the Atonement are not, as it turns out, mutually exclusive concepts. The Curse doesn’t have to have taken effect after the emergence of Man, any more than God had to wait until after the death and resurrection of the Messiah to apply the benefits of the Atonement. God exists outside of time, and so, therefore, do the consequences of our relationship to Him. Had Adam not rebelled, the Curse would not have introduced death into the universe, and natural selection would not have been the mechanism for the evolution of complex life. Something else would have been. Perhaps adaptation would not have been random, necessitating the elimination of unfit mutations? The universe would have functioned differently from the beginning, possibly without the Law of Entropy holding sway, and possibly with a completely different scheme for life on Earth.
And as unlikely as that might sound from the standpoint of practical, scientific reality—that the fundamental laws of the universe could have been influenced from the beginning by the choices made by a single specimen of animate dirt 13 billion-or-so years later, it’s not actually that far-fetched sounding when it’s considered alongside other ideas advanced by physicists themselves in their attempts to answer the Big Questions of existence.
The Participatory Anthropic Principle, for instance, proposes that the existence of the universe depends on observers—that it exists only because we’re here to experience it (that tree falling in the woods would not only not make a sound, but it wouldn’t be falling, wouldn’t be a tree, and there would be no woods within which to fall, without someone there to hear it…). The PAP is controversial, admittedly, but it doesn’t get people laughed out of academia for seriously discussing it, if some of Stephen Hawking’s writings and public addresses are any indication. It’s really just one variation of a more general “Anthropic Principle” to account for the existence of life in the universe, and it’s not even the craziest iteration. In trying to flesh out the Anthropic Principle, physicists have had to resort to serious discussion about the emergence of intelligent machines in the future, parallel universes, time-travel and other notions usually left to science fiction writers to explore.
The idea that the Fall of Man might have had practical effects on the fundamental laws of the universe isn’t actually that far out, then, and it isn’t, by comparison, so ridiculous to consider that if God exists and made Man as the privileged bearer of His Image, Natural Selection and Entropy might be the cosmic consequence of our rebellion against Him.
We read in Scripture that the Fall occurred after God “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden.” Whether this was an actual, geographic location, a spiritual plane, a psychological state, or what has long been the subject of scholarly debate. I’m completely open to it being an actual, literal place on earth, or any of the above, really, but I don’t know that it must be either of these in particular for the truth… no—for the reality of the story to apply. Whatever the true nature of the Garden of Eden, the truth of the relationship between God and Man is real, and so are the consequences.
We read, though, that the Garden of Eden was this other (…location? …condition? …plane?) to which God took him and the woman, presumably removing him from somewhere else within the normal scheme of what his life would have been had God not relocated him. The Garden was a paradise beyond what would have been his normal habitat, where Man freely enjoyed the presence of God and His gifts to Man without fear or suffering or want or death. But, it was also a place where his loyalty and love and trust in God would be tested, and his relationship with God and with His creation would be defined by the outcome of that test.
Then, we read that a talking snake—which even Young Earth Creationists interpret non-literally to mean the Devil, or Satan, or “the Accuser” in Hebrew, or the Great Red Dragon and the Prince of the Power of the Air, as he’s called in the New Testament—entered the Garden to cast doubt on God’s goodness and intentions, in order to get Adam and Eve to fail their test and fall from grace.
The serpent succeeded, and God cursed all three of them: the serpent was condemned, among other indignities, to slither in the dust for the rest of time (How did it get around before it slithered? Did it have legs and feet and a different body type?); the woman was cursed to painful childbirth and resultant dependence upon her husband; and the man (and all that belonged to him) was cursed with mortality and condemned to a constant struggle to make his living from the earth that would be cursed now because of him, and he was banished from God’s presence.
Whatever the Garden of Eden was, Adam didn’t get to stay for long. Or maybe he did. We actually have no idea how much time he spent there, nor even if it was something within space and time that could be measured in terms of temporal duration. At any rate, he disqualified himself and his descendents from it, and now humanity is barred from the immortality represented by the Tree of Life by a deadly, lightsaber-wielding angelic gatekeeper—or something that could only best be described as such according to available Bronze Age-terms.
As time went on and Adam’s offspring proliferated on the earth and they descended into greater and greater depths of depravity, we read that God wiped out nearly the entire human race, sparing only a handful to repopulate the earth.
That’s what we read in Scripture.
We’ve learned from other sources, like geology and paleontology and other sciences, that dragons once ruled the earth, long before the rise of Man. Then, something happened—we don’t know exactly what, but some massive extinction event wiped them all out and fundamentally altered the ecology of this planet. Or, at least, most of them were wiped out. Enough survived to evolve and adapt to the new environment following the asteroid strike and climate change and other alterations that wiped out most of them. Some evolved into snakes that slither on the ground. Some evolved into birds, which now dominate the skies above us.
Long after this, mankind evolved and began to proliferate on the earth. Then, another extinction event wiped out all but a few of us.
Now, I couldn’t begin to guess what the extinction of the dinosaurs has to do, in a spiritual or in a scientific sense, with the fact that Satan, or the “Great Red Dragon,” or “the Prince of the Power of the Air,” as he’s also called, was cursed in the Garden of Eden for being the snake that deceived Adam and Eve.
But, there seems to be some kind of loose correlation there, as there are between other broad features of both Scripture and scientific discoveries about the history of the Earth. And that tells me that the Scripture is actually far more true than we typically imagine—more true than our childhood Sunday school literature ever would have led us to believe, but also true in ways we never could have imagined. It’s true in ways we couldn’t even guess that it’s true.
And my concern here, obviously, is not to resolve every single apparent discrepancy between the Bible and the findings of modern science, nor is it to solve every mystery or answer every question.
I simply don’t know, with any real certainty, what the Scripture means when it tells of a global flood, or of plant life emerging before sunlight ever reached the earth, or of the first woman being the result of a divine rib transplant. I don’t believe the evidence supports a strictly literal Noah’s ark and a global deluge, or the special creation of Eve, or plant life emerging and thriving in the absence of sunlight.
I do know that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, and so they are the medium for a body of profound, life-giving truths revealed by the very same Power who raised Jesus from the dead. And I don’t know this, even, because the Bible demonstrates such an uncanny prescience with regard to what we’re continually discovering about the universe through the scientific method. I don’t point out the correlation as an apologetic for Christianity to non-believers (the resurrection and the fulfillment of prophecy accomplish that already), but as an apologetic for modern science to Christians, who continue to perpetrate a pointless and counterproductive war with interests who should not be our natural enemies.
Contrary to the narrative typically invoked in western culture, and reinforced by Christian efforts to deny and suppress the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory and the rest, the scientific revolution was not the consequence of civilization shuffling off the supposed irrationality of Christianity, but of Christians shuffling off the irrationality of paganism and polytheism.
More on that next time…