Probing Genesis for scientific truth

Andrew Parker is a respected evolutionary biologist, a professor at the Natural History Museum in London and a honorary fellow at Oxford University. In his previous book, "In the Blink of an Eye: How Vision Sparked the Big Bang of Evolution," he argued that the development of sight was pivotal in creating the earth's variety of species. In his latest book, "The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible Is Scientifically Accurate," published in October by Dutton, Parker wades into controversial waters. He examines the first book of Genesis for signs of scientific truth. His conclusion offers a new way of viewing the dilemma of science vs. religion.

GUEST BLOGGER: Andrew Parker

In a fully-fledged age of science, religion may seem just a matter of ceremony. But there is something sort of rational to it. Something suited to rigorous, careful, responsible consideration.

I recently volunteered to place the creation account of Genesis 1 side-by-side with our new scientific understanding of the history of life and the universe. Excepting the absurd fiction that the world was created in seven days, I found an eerily-close match. Amazingly, the precise wording of the Bible's first page, and the events inferred and the sequence with which they are placed, tells the story of life's history according to our current best scientific understanding. That a man without scientific knowledge , should write such a thing in 700 BCE is almost scary. And then another man of similar stock placed it on the first page of his people's most important book. This is what I call a genesis enigma.

On the Bible's first page 'Let there be light' is mentioned twice, why? Recently science has provided answers in both physics and biology -- the formation of the sun followed by the introduction of vision -- and I played some scientific role in the second.

In Genesis 1, emphasis is placed on sea creatures, despite this biblical author being landlocked with little or no knowledge of marine life. Who in their right mind would have placed these center stage? The more I looked, the more the Genesis creation story seemed unlikely to be the result of a lucky guess. That got me thinking a few winters ago.

Are those words really sacred, in some way? As a scientist not in the habit of contemplating the divine, I was later surprised to discover within religion some good old rationality.

My senses are limited and do not discern the entire world around me, and indeed my brain distorts the information I do receive. Under these circumstances, I accept the possibility of a God in a form that I could never perceive or comprehend. Here, God is something like the 'mind' once suggested by C. S. Lewis, rather than the old man with a beard that an atheist might pillory.

Although science is sound, does it have its limits beyond which we enter a realm that does not conform to mathematical formulae? Science cannot tell us whether something inexplicable -- God -- exists or not. Atheists' claims cannot be substantiated -- indeed, they are unscientific because atheism becomes as much a faith (in no God) as religion is itself. It carries a bias, and science does not. Actually, science and religion can co-exist peacefully. Einstein thought so.

If we stick to science and avoid concocting theories of creationism, God may be revealed without self-deception...and in a form so much more powerful and guiding. So it has been for me.

By Steven E. Levingston |  November 30, 2009; 11:28 AM ET Politics , Steven Levingston
Previous: Dissecting the Google book settlement | Next: If hip-hop culture reshaped our justice system...

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Again, someone else who doesn’t understand the meaning of really quite a simple word.

Atheism is disbelief in god(s). How can disbelief be a "belief" or a "faith"? It can't.

No more can 'not collecting stamps' be a hobby.

Did anyone bother to fact check this?

Posted by: simongardner | November 30, 2009 2:05 PM

Actually Simon, while I don't agree with the thrust of the article, it is you who are mistaken about a 'simple word'.

Atheism is a belief. The belief that God does not exist - a disbelief is still a belief, it's just a belief that a statement is false.

To have no belief about God you would have to be agnostic.

From a scientific perspective however atheism should be the starting point, since you should not postulate the existence of anything which is not causally necessary in your explanation. To do so is unscientific by definition.

Posted by: wiltreasure | November 30, 2009 3:33 PM

There's a problem with the non-stamp collecting analogy. Non-stamp collectors don't put up blogs and websites discrediting the activities of Stamp collectors. They don't post anti-stamp collecting signs on buses. They don't rail against those who collect stamps in public. Non-stamp collectors also don't insist that those who collect stamps are misguided, weak minded, irrational, insane or criminal for doing so. Atheism may not be a religion, but it is a belief system with philosophies and quasi normative concepts of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. In other words, while not necessarily a religion, it is an ideology. Ideologies need to function by promoting themselves and gathering like-minded members. Atheists promote atheism. Non-stamp collectors don't promote non-stamp collecting.

Posted by: littleinfinity | November 30, 2009 4:45 PM

Just out of curiosity, I took a look at Genesis I to see how "the events inferred and the sequence with which they are placed, tells the story of life's history according to our current best scientific understanding." I guess that means that according to our best scientific understanding:

The earth started rotating only after it existed as a fully-formed planetary body, complete with oceans.

The oceans existed before there was an atmosphere.

The world was completely covered by water when it formed.

The first life-forms were terrestrial plants, not aquatic microorganisms.

The earth came into existence before the sun, the other planets and the stars. (I'm also wondering how day and night existed before the sun was created.)

Birds existed before land animals.

In short, Parker's thesis doesn't hold up under even the most cursory scrutiny. Sounds like he managed to write an entire book based on wishful thinking.

Posted by: rashomon | November 30, 2009 6:25 PM

So, Mr. Parker places the Bible alongside current science and finds similarities? How could that be?

Is there order to the universe? Are there laws that govern the galaxies, planets, biology and microbiology? Could there be a Creator?

As advanced as we claim to be, we still have not left the solar system, nor our galaxy, nor traveled any measurable distance across the known universe. It seems as though science may still have a way to go to understand all things.

I submit that there is a Creator and His name is Jesus. Who is this Jesus?

Colossians 1:15-17 (New American Standard Bible)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

The Bible is full of wisdom, knowledge and power. It requires more than a cursory reading. When studied, it can transform the reader.

Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Posted by: EastCoastCommentator | November 30, 2009 9:15 PM

There are two completely different creation stories in genesis.

The order of appearance of species is completely out.

Unless you have reclassified our 'best scientific understanding' as 'whatever we want to make up' then neither genesis story even remotely represents scientific understanding of the creation of the Earth or the evolution of life on Earth - not without post hoc manipulation of the meaning of every word in genesis to match what we know now - to the same extent as one would have to manipulate the wording of Alice through the looking glass to be an amazingly close representation of our "best scientific understanding" of quantum mechanics.

Posted by: EwanR | December 1, 2009 7:36 PM

Someone fixed this up a little.

Posted by: ernieball1976 | December 1, 2009 8:13 PM

As long as we're in the business of submitting, I submit that there is no Creator.

"Who is this Jesus?" -- the Middle Eastern Sky God. (Actually I think he is supposed to be the son of the Middle Eastern Sky God, but why quibble over details of the Christian mythology?)

Posted by: mconlin1 | December 2, 2009 12:36 AM

Instead of approaching this with my mind made up, let me ask questions of people who see merit in the Biblical description of creationism.

a) Evolutionary biologists don't claim to be "done" understanding the evolution of life on Earth, so there are many, many more discoveries to be made. If someone could go into Scripture to make testable predictions BEFORE the scientists get to the same evidence (as opposed to waiting until scientists figure out how the world works and then writing an op-ed after the fact saying you knew it all along) everyone would be impressed. Why is no one doing this? Right now, it appears that creationists' actions can only be explained if Christians don't really care about bringing people to Christ, or that it's all after-the-fact doubletalk and B.S.

b) It seems we could use Parker's exact same approach to reconcile science the creation stories of many other religions (who, like Christianity, claim to be exclusively true). For example, the system of yugas in Hindu cosmogony seems in many ways remarkably similar to modern cosmology, and you could do a nice side-by-side comparison. Same for Greek (chaos = pre Big Bang), Navajo (multiverse/cyclic Big Bang theory), and so on. Is this not equally valid? Does this mean that Hinduism and all the rest are also correct, in which case why are you a Christian and not a Hindu? Or, do you claim that Christianity is a better description (in which case, why not use the BEST description, given by science?)

c) Unless you do something about the Earth's ancient history for a living, why would anyone care? How, exactly, does one's theory about the origin of the universe impact your life and behavior?

Posted by: mdcaton | December 2, 2009 1:04 PM

There's a problem with the non-stamp collecting analogy. Non-stamp collectors don't put up blogs and websites discrediting the activities of Stamp collectors. They don't post anti-stamp collecting signs on buses. They don't rail against those who collect stamps in public. Non-stamp collectors also don't insist that those who collect stamps are misguided, weak minded, irrational, insane or criminal for doing so. Atheism may not be a religion, but it is a belief system with philosophies and quasi normative concepts of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. In other words, while not necessarily a religion, it is an ideology. Ideologies need to function by promoting themselves and gathering like-minded members. Atheists promote atheism. Non-stamp collectors don't promote non-stamp collecting.

Posted by: littleinfinity | November 30, 2009 4:45 PM
==

That is because stamp collectors do not work to force positions on non-stamp collectors such as "non-stamp collectors cannot hold public office" or "non-stamp collectors must be put to death", or that "non-stamp collectors must respect stamp collection as sacred", or that "stamps should not be torn from envelopes" or "stamps are the source of morals" or "stamp collection is a science and must be taught as part of a class on networking computers" or "stamp collectors must get a tax exempt status when they meet for lunch" or "stamp collection must be celebrated on National Stamp Collector Day".

It is precisely the same reason why blogs by atheists are abundant when it comes to confronting Christianity or Islam.

When it comes to challenging Thor, for example, are the atheist blogs so abundant?

Not so much.

Posted by: HumanSimpleton | December 2, 2009 9:22 PM

My senses are limited and do not discern the entire world around me, and indeed my brain distorts the information I do receive. Under these circumstances, I accept the possibility of a God in a form that I could never perceive or comprehend. Here, God is something like the 'mind' once suggested by C. S. Lewis, rather than the old man with a beard that an atheist might pillory.
===

nah, I pillory that description of God you just gave, just the same.

If it is not something you can never comprehend or perceive, how do you know such a thing

a. is like the 'mind' (whatever that quote is supposed to convey), and
b. exist?

Posted by: HumanSimpleton | December 2, 2009 9:26 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company