Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Genesis 1: Proto-science?
Dr. Oliver W. Howarth
Department of Chemistry University of Warwick
Coventry CV4 7AL West Midlands, U.K.
From: PSCF 38 (March 1986): 63.
It has been a pleasure for me recently to be able to receive your Journal in England, courtesy of U.C.C.F. One double article I particularly enjoyed in the September and December 1984 issues was Conrad Hyers' on the narrative form of Genesis 1. He very clearly brought out the numerology and the cosmogonic structure of that great biblical chapter.
But am I alone among your readers in believing that Hyers' observations point, not as he argues, away from any possible interpretation of Genesis I as scientific, but rather towards protoscience? Although it has to be true that Genesis I is pre-scientific and of course highly theological, that in no way excludes it from being the best possible attempt in its own terms and time to present the truth about how our world came into being. As such, it would necessarily include whatever scraps of information or intuition were available to its writer. As examples, Hebrew writers were far too down-to earth to describe animals as being created before their food supply, or plants before water or land. Again, their sharp eyes allowed them, despite intense nationalism, to sense a single orgin for the present human race. Thus although they did not have access to scientific method or its corpus of knowledge, they would almost inevitably have carried out a mental process closely akin to the way present-day scientists approach their more speculative theorizing. When facts are few, we order out thoughts with criteria such as neatness, whether this be the neatness of the 3 + 3 days of Genesis or the symmetries of particle theory. We speculate on numbers that seem to fit together admirably, the sevens and twelves of the Bible or the thirds of quark theory, and the large numbers of Dirac. Nobody calls theoretical physicists unscientific because of this. Again, we stretch language beyond its secure boundaries, whether the tohu and bohu earth and the mysterious primal "waters" of Genesis, or such modern oxymorons as "virtual particles" and "multiple universes." The borderline between metaphysics and physics is narrow; cosmology has only just crossed it.
One of Hyer's aims in trying to drive a wedge between cosmology and science is to discourage an over-literal interpretation of the text. However, this aim is not lost by admitting that the author had genuine proto-scientific interest and a realistic frame of mind. He even guesses at some of the mechanisms of the creation. On three occasions God involves what he has already created in the next process of creation ("let the earth bring forth," etc.). This careful wording is not necessary to cosmogony or to theology, but rather bespeaks a sound sense of natural process under God. Again, the idea of "God divided" still informs physics as we reach backward towards an ever-increasing integration of physical phenomena. Its roots certainly lie deep in Hebrew theology, but so for that matter do those of modern science. There is no major difference between the discipline of reaching out towards earthly truth and reaching out towards heavenly truth, except that the latter requires rather more faith. Genesis I encourages us to do both.