by Timothy Lane
Kevin Williamson’s recent article on Genesis and evolution inspired a number of responses from me, but I wanted to go into this subject with more detail. The problem he cites comes from reading the Bible literally and treating it as inerrant.
I once came across a series of verses in 2 Kings which should put paid to any notions of inerrancy. (I will use the Revised Standard Version, which is handy to my laptop, as a source here.) In 14:23, it says, “In the fifiteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned for forty-one years.” It discusses his reign further, then concludes in 14:29, “And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, the kings of Israel, and Zechariah his son reigned in his place.”
It then discusses the next king in Judah in 15:1, “In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign.” Finally, after discussing Azariah’s reign, in 15:8 it says, “In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned in Samaria six months.” As can be easily computed 27 + 38 is much greater than 41, so clearly there’s some sort of error here (unless you want to rework your system of arithmetic drastically).
That brings us to Genesis 1, and the creation of Earth and all its living creatures. If you look at the chapter not as a literal reading but as some sort of approximation (after all, God in explaining the origins to Abraham or Moses or whoever could hardly have explained micro-organisms to him), it turns out to be (depending on the interpretation) surprisingly accurate (probably more so than any other culture’s creation story).
It starts, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a fine description of the Big Bang, in which all matter was created (including the matter that would eventually – though partly after some conversions from hydrogen to other elements in solar furnaces – become Earth). Our own solar system would not have existed yet (“The earth was without form and void”).
In the second day, “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ He then created the firmament (called Heaven) separating the waters above and below. This strange phrasing can be considered a description of the creation of our solar system and Earth.
Then, on the third day, God created dry land (Earth) and waters (Seas), after which “God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” This is more problematic, since only micro-organisms would have existed at this stage. But at some point these would have included photosynthetic cyanobacteria and later algae, which can reasonably be called plants. (When I was in school, in fact, all bacteria were grouped in the kingdom of plants.) Apparently even in medieval times there were Jews who accepted that this “day” only saw the earliest plants, not all different kinds.
The fourth day saw the creation of the Sun and Moon (and stars), which again requires some interpretation that apparently already existed in medieval times. Obviously, the Sun came to exist on the second “day”, but it may not have been visible as a specific body yet (though some light had to get through to enable photosynthesis to start). It’s a reasonable notion that only after the conversion of the atmosphere to one based on oxygen (which was begun by cyanobacteria) was the sky completely clear. (The Moon is less of a problem, since it may well have appeared later anyway.) Another interpetation I’ve seen is that this could have represented the development of actual eyes, but this seems a more doubtful explanation given that animals hadn’t yet come into existence.
On the fifth day God created aquatic life (including “sea monsters”) and birds. Since no land creatures yet existed, we have a problem, but there may well have been flying insects that still operated at least partly aquatically. The land creatures – both the “creeping things” and “the beasts of the earth” – came into existence on the sixth day, which concluded with the creation of the first human. This isn’t a bad sequence overall (sea creatures definitely appeared before land creatures), though it isn’t perfect.
Another point to make about Genesis is that “Adam and Eve” need not have been the very first humans (after all, Clarence Darrow did have a good point in questioning William Jennings Bryan about where Cain got his wife). They could simply have been the first to develop a transcendant relationship with God, which one could argue as being the point at which humans went from being very specialized animals to something rather different.
My final point concerns the matter of the possible divinity of Jesus Christ, and primarily doesn’t involve the Bible itself. Jesus was really the Son of God, or he was a charlatan of some sort. It’s hard to imagine that his closest disciples would have been unaware of which. One can imagine that a bunch of ordinary fishermen and such might have followed a charismatic leader in hope of some improvement in their situation. But when that didn’t happen, and in fact his followers often faced persecution that could be escaped by denying him, why didn’t they? To be sure, it isn’t clear that his closest followers (the ones likeliest to know if he were divine or fake) actually faced that choice – in the end, they may have been too well known as his disciples for such a denial to be credible to the authorities.
But if they did, what does that say? And even if they didn’t, why would they have continued to push a religion that no longer offered them any prospect of wealth or power (remember, the common Jewish vision of the Messiah was probably more of a Jewish Alexander the Great than a suffering prophet) if they didn’t have good reason to believe Jesus was the real thing?