Just how did God create the world?

Do we really believe that God created the Earth? Lots of people don’t. The media don’t. Most scientists don’t. In July 2006 the science academies of 67 countries including our own Royal Society spoke out very strongly against the idea of a seven day creation, and in favour of the theory of evolution. They were particularly critical of teaching of what is called “Young Earth Creationism” in universities, and even to schoolchildren in “faith schools” in the north east of England. You may have read about that debate at the time. The best coverage was in no less than four articles in the newspaper for academics, The Times Higher Educational Supplement, with another article and six letters to the editor in the following issue. A significant chunk of the longest article was based on an interview I gave at the time to Steve Farrar, the Opinions Editor of the Times Higher Ed. This evening I want to share what I said in that interview about what I believe about Creation and Evolution, Science and Faith. I want to make six simple points. I want to tell you all the points right at the beginning, so you know where I am going, and then unpack them one by one.
1) All Christians believe that God created the universe
2) Science assumes that everything came into existence by natural processes and random chance
3) Science will never prove decisively whether God created everything or not
4) Science gives us evidence which is consistent with intelligent design
5) The debate between 7 day “Young Earth Creationism” or “guided evolution” “Old Earth Creationism” is a matter of Biblical Interpretation for Christians
6) Focus on proving a 7-day creation distracts people from the more important task of pointing to God as Creator

So there are my six points – let me explain them in more detail. Some of them, like the first, will take a while to explain. Don’t worry because others are very short.

1) All Christians believe that God created the universe
i) The Nicene Creed:I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible
ii) Bible teaches that God is Creator: Creation out of nothing AND forming/shaping/designing

In Genesis 1-2 we read God created/made everything:
Gen 1:1 heavens and the earth
1:21 creatures of sea and every living and moving thing
1:25 wild animals and livestock
1:26-27 human beings, male and female in His image

2:4 heavens and earth
2:19 “formed out of the ground” all the beasts of the field and birds of the air

We also find God specifically named as Creator in Genesis 5, 6 and 14, Exodus 20 and 31, Deuteronomy 4 and 32 Psalms 89, 104, 148 Ecclesiastes. Prophets like Amos, Habakkuk and Malachi also call God creator, but it is a special theme in Isaiah 43, 45, 57:

Isaiah 40:26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. … 28 The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
Isaiah 42: 5. This is what God the LORD says- he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:

God is creator in PAUL: Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, 1 Timothy 4:4
And in letters of James 1:18, 1 Peter 4:19 and Hebrews and in Revelation

Jesus calls God Creator in Mark 10:6 and Mark 13:19

Jesus Himself is named as Creator –
Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

God is our Creator – this is at the heart of what ALL Christians believe! So ALL Christians are Creationists!

2) Science assumes that everything came into existence by natural processes and random chance

From the subtle unchallenged assumption of evolution in David Attenborough’s natural history films, to the explicit anti-theism of Richard Dawkins and Steve Jones, science and the media are united in rejecting the idea of a Creator. Possibly the greatest Science Fiction author Isaac Asimov made the same mistake as very many people – “I am an atheist, out and out. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he does not that I don’t want to waste my time.”
The large majority of scientists close their minds to the evidence for God’s existence – so in the end he can’t see what many others can! But Christians HAVE seen that evidence. We have experienced the power of God and seen him at work! Scientists should NOT ignore that evidence, but rethink their scientific assumptions until their science fits with the real world! It was Albert Einstein who said “Science without religion is blind. Religion without science is lame.”

“Posterity will some day laugh at the foolishness of our modern materialistic philosophy. The more I study nature the more I am amazed at the Creator.” – Louis Pasteur

3) Science will never prove decisively whether God created everything or not

i) Knowing God as creator is a matter of faith Hebrews 11:3

Heb 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

This verse says to me that science will never ever give conclusive proof about the process of creation or even the existence of God. We will always need faith to interpret the scientific evidence correctly.

“God is not discoverable or demonstrable by purely scientific means, unfortunately for the scientifically-minded. But that really proves nothing. It simply means that the wrong instruments are being used for the job.” J. B. Phillips (1906–1982)

ii) God is by definition outside/beyond/before the universe

iii) We need a “change of mind” to see God

Two people were walking along a river bank one day when they saw a man across the river. “How can we get across?” They shouted. “Why would you be wanting to do that then?” The man asked. “We want to get to the other side” they explained patiently. “Don’t be daft,” the man replied. “You’re already on the other side!” What we see depends on our point of view, on where we are standing to begin with.

Many people are so blinded by the way the media suggests that science has replaced God that they simply cannot see God. Some scientists are so locked into their way of looking at the world that they genuinely cannot see the evidence for God which is all around them. But for anyone who looks for it with the eye of faith, that evidence is plain to see. Scientists just need to switch their way of looking at the world – to move from a world which excludes God to a world which allows the possibility of God in it.

4) Science gives us evidence which is consistent with intelligent design

i) Examples of design – “Irreducible complexity”

Consider the wonders of nature; the complexity of human brain and eye, the action of enzymes, the interplay beween DNA, RNA and proteins in replication and inheritance, and countless other phenomena. It is so unlikely that these marvels “evolved” by pure chance, and sometimes in opposition to so-called natural selection. Design points to the existence of a Designer, the Architect of the Universe, “God”.

ii) The origins of spirituality

In Genesis 1:27 and 2:7 man is created in the (spiritual) image of God by the inbreathing of the breath (or spirit) of life. Many Christians understand this as God giving the dimension of spiritual experience to animals which had already developed through evolution, making them “Man” by giving them rational, moral and spiritual qualities. Psychologists and philosophers find it impossible to explain how human beings developed consciousness and conscience, and appreciation of beauty and the desire to pray and worship. Evolution never claims to explain these things, and never could! The Christian explanation is simple – God made us this way, in His image!

iii) A “finely-tuned” universe

Design/Guidance could be step by step interventions, or could be in the “fine-tuning” of universal constants creating a universe where life as we know it would come to exist. If we believe miracles happen (or have happened) then there is no problem in an old earth / guided evolution, God steering the development of life at key stages.

iv) The improbabilities of evolution by random chance alone

Even if evolution was the mechanism by which life as we know it came into existence on earth, it seems obvious to many people that the probability of such complicated beings as ourselves evolving by random chance alone is infinitesimally small. But we did! So that suggests to the eye of faith that God had a hand in our development now and then!

5) The debate between 7 day “Young Earth Creationism” or “guided evolution” “Old Earth Creationism” is a matter of Biblical Interpretation for Christians

i) Whole weight of Young Earth Creationism rests on interpreting Day as literal 24 hours

ii) You don’t have to believe in a 7-day creation to believe in the infallibility of the Bible
“Young Earth Creationists” say that if you don’t believe in a 7-day creation then you don’t believe in the authority of the Bible! That is just rubbish! Old Earth creationists like me are as committed to the authority and reliability of the Bible as anybody else – we are actually disagreeing over the interpretation of just one word as it is used in just three passages of Scripture.

iii) Events of creation were revealed, not observed

Until Day 6 no humans around so not from human observation, had to have been revealed in some way – revelations subject to interpretation – more often symbolic than literal

iv) There are different kinds of language in the Bible: some is symbolic or metaphorical

When we approach a Bible passage we must try to work out what kind of language it is written in. Eternal and spiritual truths, things we can never fully understand or adequately describe, often can’t be expressed in literal language. So religious truth is usually expressed in words used symbolically or poetically, using similes and metaphors, sometimes bending language almost to breaking point. We make a big mistake if we try to understand literally language which was intended to be understood symbolically.

For example, think about when Jesus told his parables. Was the “Good Samaritan” a real living person? Did a genuine “Prodigal Son” ever leave his father? Were the parables history? These carefully constructed stories convey powerful spiritual truth without necessarily relating to historical events. We have to ask similar questions about the Creation Narratives in Genesis chapters 1-2. Are they intended to be “scientific truth” in 20th century terms? Is the language literal or is it instead symbolic or poetical language?

“Old Earth Creationists”, like me, are just as committed as anybody else to the reliability of the Bible as the Word of God. But we believe that Genesis is teaching religious and not scientific truth. Therefore we believe that the language of the Biblical account of creation is symbolic rather than necessarily literal. Genesis teaches WHO it was who created the earth (God) and WHY, but not scientifically HOW it all took place.

Old Earth Creationists regard the “days” in Genesis as long periods of time. Other parts of the account are SURELY symbolic – God “said” (what language did God say it in?) God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils. When we’re talking about what God “says” and “does” human language HAS to be symbolic. When it says “days” surely these are God’s days. It’s not necessarily right, and probably wrong, to insist that the days in Genesis 1-2 have to be understood as literal 24 hour periods. (There were not even a sun or a moon until the third day!)

Notice how well the order of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 actually fits with scientific ideas of evolution, ideas which did not come alone till thousands of years after Genesis was written. So we can accept the idea of development or evolution. There could well have been were dinosaurs, living and dying out before humans were created in that long long period of the fifth “day”.

v) So the word “day” does not necessarily refer to a 24-hour period:
(a) 2 Peter 3:8 (quoting Psa 90:4) But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
(b) Phrases such as “the Day of the Lord”

vi) Day could be from God’s perspective not human – no more problem!!!

vii) Language of Science or History as we know it is only 18th century onwards

It seems very unlikely that the writers were trying to produce a textbook of science and history. For one thing science and history as we know them have only been invented over the last few hundred years! Everything in Genesis 1-2 must have been revealed by God to those writers in ways that the people THEN could understand, not in the language of history and science which weren’t going to be invented for thousands of years. The Bible accounts need to be read in the context of the kinds of literature which were around when they were written, not as if they were written today just for us. Let me tell you a story.

Man walks into a doctor’s surgery.
Doctor, Doctor, I keep on singing “The Green Green Grass of Home all the time.”
Doctor says, “You’ve got Tom Jones syndrome.”
Man asks, “Is that common?”
Doctor replies, “It’s not unusual!” Boom Boom.

We know what kind of story that is by the formula, beginning, “Doctor, Doctor” and ending “Boom Boom”. It’s a joke.
The joke only works if we know certain key facts – Tom Jones is a famous singer and two of his greatest hits are “The Green Green Grass of Home” and “It’s not unusual.”
To “work” as a joke it is completely irrelevant whether an actual man ever did walk into a specific doctor’s surgery or not. It is a funny story. The “genre” of joke does not demand historical accuracy.
We wouldn’t find that story in the Bible because elements of it would be outside their time – anachronistic. In the same way, to find literalism, or scientific details or even historical language as we use it today in Genesis 1-2 talking about events before human beings were around, would be anachronistic. It is a misunderstanding of the genre of the language.

The problem which I have with Young Earth Creationists is that they are fighting the wrong war on the wrong battleground! The challenge is NOT to prove to the scientific world that the earth came into being in 7 days only 8000 years ago. The challenge which the Young Earth Creationists keep dodging is to prove to the wider world and the mainstream Church that the word “day” in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis HAS to carry the literal meaning of a 24 hour period of time, and cannot possibly in any way shape or form be symbolic language. That is not a question of science but a question of Biblical interpretation and systematic theology. The so called “creation scientists” don’t have enough training or competence in theology or linguistics or hermeneutics to begin to give a decent answer to that question. Until the 7 day creationists actually address that issue, mainstream scientists and competent theologians will have problems with the idea of seven literal days of creation!

6) Focus on proving a 7-day creation distracts people from the more important task of pointing to God as Creator

Almighty God is Creator of Heaven and Earth! Whether the earth was created in seven 24 hour days is an issue of Biblical interpretation, not science. The debate between science and seven day “Young Earth Creationism” is a red herring from the vital Christian message we have to proclaim about God as Creator.

i) Creation in 7 days is only mentioned in THREE places

Creation in seven days only THREE places –

Genesis 1-2, Genesis 2:3

Then the seven days of creation are given as the reason for the 4th commandment in Exodus 20 repeated in Exodus 31

Ex 31:17 the Sabbath, …. will be a sign between me and the Israelites for ever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'”

But there is an interesting CHANGE of reason in 10 cmdmts as listed in Deuteronomy 5:14 where the reason given for the Sabbath is NOT the seven days of creation but instead Deut 5: 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

NO other references to 7 days of creation apart from one reference to the Sabbath quoting Exodus in Hebrews 4:3-4.

ii) Battle for “young earth” is a major barrier for some, especially scientists

Public arguments over Young Earth Creationism is likely to drive people away from God, not bring them to God. That certainly happened to some of my friends who today are eminent scientists.

So, “Has science disproved the Bible, specifically creation?” You must make up your own mind. Science casts some doubts on whether creation took place over the space of seven 24 hour days just 8000 years ago. But it seems to me that good principles of Biblical Interpretation cast doubt on whether the Bible really teaches Young Earth Creationism anyway. That all hinges on whether one single word should be interpreted literally or symbolically!! What the Bible DEFINITELY teaches is that Almighty God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. With the eye of faith, we can see the Hand of the Designer, the eternal architect, in all He has made. And science which studies the wonders of creation will never ever be able to prove or disprove the existence of the Creator who is beyond and above His creation.

Revelation 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

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