With the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Hamm, I have been thinking about the significance I (or we, or whatever) should place on scientific reasoning and fact and how it relates to religion in my (our, whatever) life. On one hand, we have the benefit of years of observation of the physical world and how it acts and reacts. We have tested and retested theories and formed a relatively accurate (to our current knowledge) description of the physical world and where it came from, and what it is currently doing, and what is likely to happen to it if we don’t change how we are currently treating it. On the other hand, we have tradition and written accounts from centuries past that many regard as “absolute truth” in opposition to what we can observe in the physical world. These accounts have brought untold comfort to many and untold suffering to many. Which is right?
Does one have to be right over the other? Some people think so. It appears that Ken Hamm thinks so. His Creation Museum features displays of dinosaurs and people living together. He even goes so far as to speculate on how Noah could have gotten all the dinosaurs into the ark. Here’s my take on that: we have fossil evidence of dinosaurs living up until about 65 million years ago (or so). After that they disappear from the fossil record. Humans came on the scene much later. Prior to about 2.3 million years ago, there is no fossil record of humans. We also know a lot about the origins of the book of Genesis. It was a compilation of the two major origin myths from the time. The Mosaic tradition stemmed from the law, and the Abrahamic tradition stemmed from the ownership of the land. During the time of the Persian Conquest in 538 BCE these two groups had to compromise and write a common history in order to gain more local control from the Persian ruling authority. Thus, we have oral tradition being compromised with other oral tradition for the sake of commonality so that they could have better lives than they were having at the time. I think this origin of the written account we now hold so dear shows accurately where we should hold the book of Genesis as far as “ultimate truth”. Then we have the addition of other oral tradition and myth into the mix with the addition of neighboring cultures’ beliefs and stories. I believe that the story of Noah is an prime example of this. The Epic of Gilgamesh is older than the Genesis account, and many believe they are based on an actual occurrence that is similar in many respects to both, but entirely different at the same time. The Black Sea Deluge hypothesis is corroborated by archaeological and historical evidence, and it adequately explains where the Noah myth came from. So when taken from this perspective, Ken Hamm’s speculation that there were dinosaurs, long after they were extinct, being saved from a quickly flooding sea by a mythological person and his boat is utterly preposterous.
Do I believe that the Bible can be lined up to agree with scientific thinking? In many cases, yes. For instance, there is the Genesis 1:1/1:2 time gap theory which does an OK job of consoling the two. The speculation goes something like this: there was a massive time gap between creation in Genesis 1:1 and the subsequent recreation starting in 1:2. God created the physical realm, Satan fell from heaven, destroying everything (possibly the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs) which explains the “darkness upon the face of the deep” we find in Genesis 1:2.
My current understanding is the explanation that the origin stories (yes, there are two) found in Genesis are what they actually are, myths. Why shouldn’t we take them as such? Don’t the Jews, whose ancestors actually wrote the book we subverted for our own purposes, view the creation stories that way?
I actually think it’s much healthier to view the creation stories as they actually are. I kind of like being able to not dismiss actual physical evidence from the scientific community. I kind of like being able to think and be logical and not dismissive of people who share those same qualities. Does it affect my faith to view the creation stories as they are? Well obviously! It changes a lot of prior “givens”. When I was growing up, there was no questioning of the earth as being 6,500 years old (or however old it’s supposed to be). There was no questioning the accuracy of the “history” of the earth as presented in the Bible. But at the same time, I had to learn evolution and the actual history of our world in science class. It made sense, but there was no consoling of the two views. While in the UPC, my former pastor actually introduced me to the Genesis Gap theory, which I thought was quite progressive, since he actually acknowledged the accuracy of science, but held on to the accuracy of scripture at the same time. To me, the mythology version is much more palatable, as well as believable. As I have aged, I have read more and more of the evidence that the scientific view is correct. I cannot possibly dismiss the evidence with the wave of my hand as so many do; “The Bible is right, so I believe God over those atheist scientists.” I like using my brain too much to do that!
As I have mentioned in other posts, I currently consider myself an Agnostic Christian, with the christian part waning, so the myth theory actually helps my faith in some way. It acknowledges the true origins of the written record of the people of who wrote it, which I think is much more fair to them. It also shows just how human they really were. It lets me know that they were caught up in political and societal turmoil, but were able to accomplish something that vastly outlasted themselves for their common good. If there is a God (and I believe there is) wouldn’t he want us to take that same attitude: accomplishment in light of adversity, even if we have to compromise with each other in order to make good things happen? I think “yes”.