I have an atheist friend... ok, I have a number of atheist friends, some of whom are open and honest about it. But one friend I have known since elementary school and while we do not have regular contact, we find ourselves in interesting conversations on Facebook. So for all of the posts on Facebook that are stupid, meaningless, frustrating or the like, I get these occasional interchanges with her and others that seem to make the whole site worth it.
It all started with an article from the website Raw Story my friend shared about Marco Rubio's recent interview in GQ where he was asked how old he thought the earth was. His response was probably typical of a politician. He remained non-committal toward either a literal seven-day creation or one as described by the accepted cosmological models. In part of his response, he said,“Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”
After reading the piece, I do see Rubio as engaging in politico-speak. He simply wants to maintain distance from anything that will keep him from alienating supporters but at the same time he does not want to necessarily denigrate science. I understand that. But I believe we need to have a society where we say what we believe and consequences be damned. Speaking in generalities and subtly changing the topic to avoid the question does not help us. Rubio claimed that he wasn't a scientist (subtly granting them authority on the matter) and didn't feel qualified. Well, the scientists do have some disagreement on finer points of the cosmological model, but age of the universe is not one of them. Just cede to their knowledge and let the chips fall where they lie.
In my comment, I based my reproach as both a theologian and a scientist. Having worked on an advanced degree in phyiscs after an undergrad degree in physics and then moving on to seminary, I was then asked by my friend how I reconciled my faith with science. Now, I really wish I could have responded over a cup of coffee rather than on Facebook, but we don't even live near enough to do that. So I took some time to write the following.
There is not a quick answer to that... Any answer I give will surely raise more questions... but that being said... here goes.
First... creationism is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of Christianity... It is only 150 years or so old. It arises as people begin to have a more scientific view of the world. Darwin is a major player in this move. They then begin to read scripture scientifically. In many ways the battle between a theological and scientific worldview was lost long ago and science won. The attempt to read Genesis as a scientific text is proof. Augustine in his "Literal Commentary on Genesis" states plainly that if science points to creation happening some other way, we must follow science not scripture.
Second... there are two creation stories in Genesis. Genesis 1 and the opening verses of chapter 2, and then the remainder of the second chapter are separate stories. Pay attention to the detail and order of how things are created. They don't line up. But the accounts are not meant to answer the question of how creation happens. These stories and the first eleven chapters of Genesis are myth... not false stories, but stories that point to deep truth. Myths provide meaning and identity for us. In the creation stories, which are written while Israel is written in the midst of the Babylonian exile, these tales are in many ways meant to counter the Babylonian creation myth of the Enuma Elish. The story gives primary witness to the One who Creates. This God needs no death of another god to make creation. This God simply speaks and things happen. This God lovingly creates human beings as the pinnacle of creation. This God creates human beings to work and serve creation. This God lovingly breathes life into human beings, creating them in his image. This God creates humans to live in relationship to one another... and on and on... none of this is dependent on a particular scientific theory. It comes out of centuries of living in a relationship with this God... The Hebrew scriptures are not put in chronological order, so the stories they tell in Genesis arise out of long term reflection of who this God is.
Not depending on any particular scientific theory is helpful then to reach across many centuries as the science changes... However as I read the creation account in a non-scientific way, it does affect how I did science. The same God who ordered the universe, did so in a way as to make the laws of the universe accessible to humans through reason and observation. If God created a world in seven days, but made conditions look like it was much older, I wonder, "Why?" To test my faith and commitment? That unfortunately does not jibe with my understanding of Jesus and God always being the initiator of salvation and faith in human beings. Faith is a gift to us, not something we have to dig deep and find within ourselves. It comes from outside us, because we can not truly trust anything that comes from within because of the Fall and the brokenness of relationships, even my relationship with myself... in the church we call this sin, but too often we think in moralistic terms, and not on a cosmic perspective, but that is a discussion for a different time.
So I am left with two possibilities... reading the creation account in such a way that produces an inherent conflict within scripture (there are plenty of ways that happens, but you have navigate those... some are not important... this one I believe is... ) or I can read one where God initiates creation and allows it to be accessible to humans through reason and when humans screw up, God initiates a means of redemption that seeks to make a broken creation new again.
So I am perfectly capable of letting science be science... and letting God be God. The one brought the other into being... but we are allowed to peer into the wonder and mystery of creation and explain it.
Ok... that was about as short as I can get it... let me know if that makes sense. and questions are always welcome. because there are a number of us who simply seek to let others know that Christianity is not a monolithic group... Peace.
I know that there might be some who disagree with my reading. I am fine with that. What I was in awe of is how my one comment opened up space for a conversation between two people who are in two camps that many see as diametrically opposed. And yet... here. In a moment when I was honest, my friend saw something that intrigued her and she felt safe in asking more. And while I feel uncomfortable calling it "Witness" per se... it was. But I didn't think about it as such as I wrote it. I just wrote what I believed because someone who believed otherwise asked a question.