Science and faith: The creation story

There’a a very interesting post at the Jesus Creed blog which examines claims from John Polkinghorn’s new book about creation.

Polkinghorn, was an eminent Cambridge scientist before he was ordained and was involved in the discovery of quark particles, basically says that he doesn’t think that the creation accounts in Genesis was supposed to be literal scientific accounts of how the world was formed. The fact that there are two of them (Gen 1 and 2) which contain different details is an indicator of this.

Instead, they contain

true myth – with a truth so deep that only story can convey it.

This position resonates with my thinking. I have never been a fan of young earth creationism and see science as sitting alongside faith, complementing not opposing it. The creation stories are then more about explaining truths about God’s relationship with mankind and his creation, and mankind’s relationship with God, the world around, and one other. With this approach you can maintain scientific integrity without having to ignore vast chunks of the bible.

This still leaves questions open to which I don’t yet have adequate answers, such as who were Adam and Eve, and were they real or also metaphorical in order to convey truth. And if they were myth, at what point in the genesis narrative does is start to become historical? (for example, I believe that the flood in Gen 6 happened, so presumably if Adam and Eve were metaphorical, somewhere between Gen 3 and 6 the narrative shifts to being about real people rather than simply illustrative of God’s truth ).

So there are still lots of unanswered questions, but Polkinghorn’s approach is useful to those with a scientific mindset.


3 thoughts on “Science and faith: The creation story”

  1. Hi Andrew

    Interesting questions. There was a fab talk at Limmud (google it) this year by Raphael in which he made the argument that the ‘mythical’ period was up to Noah and after that it was what he called ‘historical’. Actually he also said there is an overlap between the two periods, and that there is a third period after that I think called ‘modern’. It was a fab talk – it might become available as a podcast – I’ll let you know.

    He also said, much like you said above, that myth doesn’t mean made up or untrue – it means based on truth but presented in a more story like fashion that enables us to understand the essence of what is being said, without it being literal.

    On Adam and eve – it helps to know some Hebrew. The Hebrew word ‘Adam’ means man, as in mankind – so one reading of this is that God created not one person, but all of mankind. The word is also related to the Hebrew word ‘adamah’ which means earth or soil – is in God created man from the dust of the earth. The Hebrew word for Eve comes from the word meaning life.

    1. Adam does indeed mean ‘man’. I guess some people’s question’s with Adam meaning ‘mankind in general’ are to do with 1. the word being singular (i think) and 2. the fall – Adam being representative of the father of humanity was cast out of God’s presence resulting in all humanity being flawed and sinful. The questions would then be ‘what does the fall look like if we’re dealing with more than one person?’ or ‘how does one persons fall affect the whole human race? (if there were other people around at the time, which they may have been – e.g. Cain and Abel’s wives).

      Another problem (for me but not for you) is Paul’s use of the Fall of Adam, representative of all humankind, being compared to Jesus’ act of redemptive justification, also representative for all human kind:

      Rom 5:18-19: Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

      See the whole passage from 5:12-21 – he uses the ‘one man’ analogy a lot.

      So, my answer to ‘were Adam and Eve real or not?’ is ‘I’m not sure, but here are the options!.

      Of course, if they were real, I’m quite happy for them to sit within a context of evolution, if that is indeed the way in which the world developed…

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