Science in Christian Perspective
Modern Version of the Creation Account
Aldert van der Ziel
Electrical Engineering Department
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455
From: JASA 33 (September 1981): 171-173.
Professor Wilhelm Knevels of Germany suggested in an interesting book (The Reality of God) that somebody should recast the story of Creation in Genesis1 in terms of our present knowledge of the world around us, and that this should be done in such a manner that its theological content was retained. The suggestion intrigued me, and I decided to give it a try.
What follows is a first attempt toward such a story. It is experimental in nature and is given only as an example of what might
possibly be done in this respect. I do not suggest that my attempt
Nevertheless, it might be helpful for some non-Christians to hear the message of creation in modern form; it might overcome some of their prejudices against the Genesis account. Also some conservative Christians, who are afraid that modern science might threaten the content of the Bible, might learn that they have little to fear. But the main intent is to give a confession of faith in God the Creator in terms of what modern science has to say.
In the beginning space was empty. About 15 billion years ago God said: "Let there be a Universe". And in an instant of time God created out of nothing all the energy of the Universe in a very small part of space. This huge amount of energy caused a large explosion, and so the expanding Universe was formed. While expanding, the energy condensed into matter, the matter into galaxies and the galaxies into stars; and the stars began to shine, first dimly, then brightly. And God saw that it was good.
About 4.5 billion years ago God said: "Let there be a solar system with a planet that can sustain life." And our solar system was formed; a sun surrounded by planets that orbited around it, and each planet, in turn, rotated around its axis. Its third planet, counted from the sun, was destined to become habitable. The sun began to shine, and the rotation of the earth around its axis alternately produced day and night, day on the illuminated side, night on the non-illuminated side of the earth. And God saw that it was good.
Soon after its formation the earth was in a molten form; the earth and the lower atmosphere were very hot, and there were large amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere. But gradually the earth cooled and its surface became solid. When the atmosphere reached a temperature below 365' C, the water vapor in the atmosphere partly condensed and torrential rains fell upon the earth for a long time. When the earth and its atmosphere reached about the present temperature, a more stable situation arose, in which most of the water vapor had condensed and had assembled in the low-lying parts of the earth. So the seas and the dry land were formed. And God saw that it was good.
In this more stable situation weather processes as we know them occurred; sunshine, thunderstorms, lightning and rain. As a consequence complex molecules, amino acids, were formed in the primeval atmosphere, and these molecules were transported to the seas, where they accumulated; they would become the building blocks of future life forms. Each molecular species occurred in two possible forms that were each other's mirror image.
More than 3.5 billion years ago God said: "Let there be living cells that have metabolism and that can reproduce themselves." And a first primitive cell appeared, and from it all further living cells descended by cell division. Since only one living cell was formed at first, its molecules had a particular symmetry; and since all future life forms descended from it, they all had the same molecular symmetry up to the present.
The first living cells were without nucleus and so had limited genetic material. Therefore God said: "Let there be cells with a nucleus containing a genetic code as a blueprint for the appearance and the functioning of the living cell." And so living cells containing nuclei were formed. In the reproduction process the nucleus and its genetic code were reproduced, so that the offspring resembled the original in almost every respect.
And God endowed the genetic code with a certain amount of flexibility, so that over long periods of time the molecules in the genes of the nuclei of the cells could change by molecular rearrangement and by accumulation of new genetic material. Looking over short periods, the cells seemed to be reproduced perfectly, but looking over very long periods the cells changed into new species.
And God saw that it was good.
During the development of these forms of life, cells appeared that could transform carbon-dioxide into starches and sugar with the help of light under release of oxygen (photosynthesis). The atmosphere had at first little oxygen but due to the new process it gradually became richer in oxygen. As a consequence the possibility was laid for new life forms that operated by breathing oxygen.
And God said: "Let there be complex, multicellular forms of plant and animal life." And plants and animals appeared, and God said: "Be fruitful, multiply and develop." And so it happened. The plants and animals developed and new species of both were formed. And where common evolutionary principles operating in this development were not sufficient, other principles became operative and speeded further development.
In this manner the plant kingdom was established. Mighty trees developed next to tiny plants. Seed-bearing grains and fruitbearing trees developed next to beautiful flowers. Cell division was no longer the only form of reproduction but reproduction by spores and seeds became common. And God saw that it was good.
In the same way animal life developed. Worms, mollusks, spiders and insects appeared. So did after some time the fishes, amphibia, reptiles, birds and mammals. Carnivores and cattle, and all sorts of other animals, including primates (monkeys) developed upon God's command. In the development of higher forms of animal life sexual reproduction and mutual attraction between the sexes were introduced as principles for maintaining and developing life forms. And God saw that it was good.
And God said: "Let there be man, to rule over the earth, the plants and the animals, and to communicate with me and to serve and worship me." And upon God's command one of the primate species (not a modern ape!) developed first into a pre-human, and finally into a fully human life form. So man became capable of ruling over the earth, the plants and the animals, to communicate with God and to worship and serve Him. And God saw that it was good.Comments
To conform with the Genesis narrative I stressed certain highlights in the development of the Universe and of life on earth. This should not be interpreted as meaning that God's creative activity was limited to certain crucial points in the development. Actually, God's creative activity encompasses all that happened.
The religious and the scientific views of the Universe do not conflict with each other but rather complement each other. Science will always ask the questions: "What happened?", and: "What were the mechanisms involved?". This would even be the case if science came up with evidence pointing to genuine "manufacturing." Faith will always relate the world around us to God, even where natural processes seem to be fully adequate to describe the developments. As in any complementary approach, both points of view extend all the way.
Some people maintain that the religious approach to the world was once an acceptable interpretation, but that it has now been superseded by the approach offered by science. Others maintain that the religious approach to the world should be further developed into an alternate scientific theory that competes with the theory of evolution. Both approaches ignore the complementary character of the scientific and the religious points of view, and should therefore be discarded.
The highlights of the Creation account of this paper can be summed up as follows:
1. The beginning. The explosive situation at time zero could not have been assembled slowly; it is a singularity and should be treated as such. Some scientists who do not consider themselves Christians postulate here a creative act. This should gracefully be acknowledged, but it should also be understood that God would equally be Creator if the explosion were the result of a previous implosion or if the Universe were oscillating.
2. The emergence of a life-bearing planet. Whether or not this should be considered a unique event depends on how rare life in the Universe is. God would still be Creator if life-sustaining planets were found in other solar systems.
3. The first primitive form of life. It is clear from the observed molecular symmetry of all present forms of life that all life started from a single primitive cell. The emergence of such a cell must be scientifically described as an elementary event in the wave-mechanical sense, with a very small probability.
4. The emergence of the nuclear cell with a genetic code. This represents a radically new principle that most likely came about rather suddenly. If that were the case, it could be considered a unique event. But God would equally be Creator if the nuclear cell had emerged slowly.
5. The development of multicellular life forms. A multi-cellular life form is not a clump of loosely connected cells but an organic unity of cells; it could thus be considered a radically new beginning.
6. The emergence of man. The emergence of full man represents a radical change not so much in man's body as in man's spirit, in his self-awareness, his ability to think and reason, to invent and to communicate. But God is not Creator because these changes occurred suddenly; He would equally be Creator if the pre-human forms of life had crossed the human threshold slowly.
I made a cautious use of evolutionary processes, thereby indicating that they are under God's control; I left the possibility of other processes, as yet undiscovered, open. In the scientific approach to the Universe one must leave the possibility open that the description in terms of natural processes as we know them has limits.
The Creation account of this paper should not be interpreted as a harmonization effort. I did not aim to make the religious approach to the Universe more palatable, as such harmonization efforts usually try to do. But it should be understood that when one wants to confess God as Creator in modern terms, one unavoidably has to connect one's faith in God with our present understanding of the world around us. This is what I tried to do.Conclusions
We saw how we could incorporate elements of the modern world view into our theological thinking. But we did so critically. Mixed with the facts of science are concepts that are religious in nature and that conflict with the biblical view; they should not be taken over but discarded. We made for example a careful use of the theory of evolution, but we did not take over "evolution" as a creed.
When following this rule we are in full accord with Genesis 1. It took over many of the ideas of the ancient world view, but not the religious concepts associated with it. For example, the moon and the sun were not seen as deities, but as God's creations, serving His purpose. This is basically not difficult to put into practice in our situation.
The aim of the discussion was not to vindicate Genesis 1. But we see that the picture that modern science gives of the world around us can very well be incorporated into the framework of Genesis 1.
There may well be difficulty with Genesis 2 and 3 and the biblical passages dependent upon it. The present scientific approach to man does not lead to a "first pair" and hence leaves little room for a "fall." We should therefore be satisfied with the theological content of these passages.