Poetically Harmonizing Genesis with Science


(Jo Helen Cox) #1

I am asking for help from those who know Hebrew and science. Does my description of the Genesis creation work as well as it seems?

My lifelong question, “Does Genesis describe nature, or is it a myth?” It literally took decades, and lots of prayer and frustration, to come to the conclusion, “Yes! Miraculously, YES!” The Bible literally describes the Big Bang and evolution, including human evolution. However, to harmonize Genesis with standard science we must be flexible on four things.

The first part of harmony requires inspiration that transcends beliefs held. Those beliefs come from drastically different historical times. If God could not inspire the writer to describe creation adequately to us, then why do we insist the writer’s beliefs about spiritual things are inspired? A literal interpretation must be maintained, but that interpretation must match standard science. Only then, does the passage become miraculous to today’s outsiders.

The second part of harmony concerns the entire Bible’s description of the creation. Not one text establishes a perfect creation as dogma. Not once is the concept mentioned explicitly or is perfection mourned as lost. If the writers believed it, we have no proof. Perfectionism includes immortal humans cursed with mortality and a hereditary original sin for every person thereafter. All the passages used to support these beliefs require a belief in a perfect creation first (circular logic). The Bible says God made everything in an ordered manner, and then called each part good and the whole very good. All other references to God’s creation tell of a wonderful, but not safe, creation, not someplace recreated by sin.

The third part of harmony concerns writing style. Many preachers and teachers have concluded the biblical creation passage must be read as a literal narrative list only. They find little or no poetic elements to add to the understanding of that list. Other people insist it has enough poetic elements that it must be poetry. Poetry removes some of the constraints of narrative form. However, proposals for any one particular style of poetry have not gained great approval because something technical always keeps them from being “that kind of poetry.” The biggest problem occurs when either group lets the text fall from a literal interpretation into a mystical or mythical interpretation. There is no longer any need for physical evidence that supports the assertion of inspiration.

The forth part of harmony concerns our view of God. A lost perfection endorses an inept God who was not in control then and not in control now. Sin and Satan gain much more influence on our lives then He does. This view is not consistent with any biblical text, except for those describing beliefs that are not in alignment with God.

I propose that Circular Poetry provides a solution to each of these issues. When read as Circular Poetry, the Bible matches standard science, which gives evidence to inspiration. Genesis 1 draws an outline and science fills in all the wonderful details.

Evolution:
The creation texts generalize every “kind” of animal, including “human-kind” (except for the two humans and a serpent in a garden). Not one life form is described bluntly enough to specify a Genus let alone a species. Some groupings are so vague that “Kingdom” is too specific (sea creatures). On the other hand, generality accepts every plant and animal form that ever existed. And… generality accepts whatever lineage God used to produce the animals from the beginning to those living at the time of the writer.

The ancient Hebrews may not have used our verbiage, but they could differentiate between species. However, they did not segregate species as uniquely created. They grouped animals according to similar traits (Leviticus 11). They knew those similarities showed kinship. To us, those similarities represent Families and Genus, a kinship of lineage. The Ancient Hebrews grouped animals the same way evolution theories group them. Generality lets “kind” accept “linage” as a definition. Evolution theory simply describes the causation of linage without unique creations for each species.

Instead of rejecting evolution, one can express evolution as God’s “sculpting tool.”

Poetic Form:
This is the basic structure of Genesis 1. The first three “days” open up spaces. The second three “days” consecutively fill those spaces.

Introduction and content
Day 1 opens the universe with light -------Day 4 fills the universe with objects
Day 2 opens sky and ocean -----------------Day 5 fills the ocean and sky
Day 3 opens land with plants ------------Day 6 fills the land with animals and people
Day 7 conclusion and foundation for weekly contemplation (not called Sabbath)

Circular Poetry:
Connecting the days poetically creates circular pattern, a path that ends where it began, which is called circular poetry. This type of poetry does not require consistent rhyme or meter. Each “opening day” contains two major elements that are related. Each “filling day” carries two major elements that relate and link to their “opening day.” As poetry, Gen 1 describes natural relationships science only recently recognized.

The introduction proclaims in creed form that everything created comes from (a) One Creator.
Linking Day 1 to Day 4 – After the beginning, (b) first light leads to separation of © light from dark, which produces (d) stars like our sun, around which (e) unlit bodies form, which reflect and guide us to understand the (b) light.
Linking Day 2 to Day 5 – From the “heavens,” (f) atmosphere collects and precipitates (g) oceans, which provides suitable environment for prolific (h) sea life, which slowly transforms into (i) flying animals capable of dominating the (f) atmosphere.
Linking Day 3 to Day 6 – Out of the oceans (j) dry land expands and provides suitable minerals to support life, from which came the first multi-cellular life forms to dominate land, (k) plants. They provide an environment for prolific (l) land animals, which slowly transform into (m) humans, which dominate the (j) land and carry the image of the (a) One Creator.
Day 7 invites the reader to contemplate the loving details of God’s creation. It links expansive time span with the time it took for the Hebrew nation to form. Both need time and involve continued ongoing processes.
Genesis 2:4 can be added to this poem as a return to the creed or used as the beginning of the “second” creation story. It works equally well for both.

The Creation Days interpreted:

The Creed. One God created everything above our heads and everything below our feet. No other gods need apply.

Day 1 describes the Big Bang to the first star. What is more formless than a singularity? What is more void than the universe before plasma or particles existed? Yet all that “nothing” contained the potential for everything we know.

God’s movement caused expansion, and plasma formed, which physicists describe as a fluid energy. The writer saw this as water. One of the first particles was the photon. On command, they lit the entire universe, and it glowed evenly throughout. The formation of larger particles and atoms trapped the photons and the universe went dark. The gravity of atoms drew them into big balls (proto stars) that eventually burst from the darkness in released light.

Light and dark are not gods. They are creation.

Science says the beginning was formless and void. Before there were planets, science says the first stars had to form and explode. Science says there were two first light events. Science describes those events outlined in Genesis 1.

Day 4 fills Day 1 with all the astral bodies. One might say the order is not scientific, sun and moon before the stars. However, the passage is more about their use than about their structure. It states the order from a logical human viewpoint, big to small, most useful to less useful. The sun counts days. The moon counts months. The stars count years.

Astral bodies are not gods. They are creation.

Genesis 1 does not support the beliefs of mysticism and astrology, a spiritual control over our lives by astral bodies. These objects were created just like everything else, naturally. We find benefits from studying the sun, moon, and stars in that order. Seen from a human viewpoint the passage matches science.

Day 2 describes the infant earth, a big ball of rubble (the no rain from chapter 2, see below). From the “heavens,” meteors and comets bring water ice. These evaporate and mix with the volcanic gasses to form a thickening atmosphere. From the atmosphere, water fills basins and builds oceans that cover all the earth. (Yes, water covered all the earth. Geologically, earth’s continents needed water to form.)

The earth, wind, and water are not gods. They are creation.

The wording matches science.

Day 5 fills day 2. First life started in water. The oceans filled with a myriad of life before any plant or animal (beyond microscopic) lived on land. In the ocean, all forms of life were produced. One of the first forms proliferated so much that it polluted the atmosphere with oxygen and the planet was never the same. Because of the available oxygen, animal life proliferated. Out of the ocean came the lineage that eventually became birds.

This is a passage of extreme environments, which humans still do not control. The writer proclaims that from the bottom of the ocean, to the highest-flying bird, God created all the animals. That sentiment echoes the heaven and earth creed.

Water creatures and air creatures are not gods. They are creation.

From the heavens, atmosphere formed which formed the ocean. From the oceans, life began and spread to the atmosphere. The order is correct per science if the passage is read as a circular unit of poetry.

Day 3. Earth’s continents grow from the combination of plate tectonics, volcanism, water, and erosion. Continental rock is lighter than oceanic rock, so they “float” above as tectonic plates collide. That means they buckle and bulge instead of subduct. Volcanism grows them taller, and erosion grows them wider. These processes form new kinds of rock: metamorphic and sedimentary. Continents are still growing out of the ocean.

According to paleontology, plants started in the ocean. Plants were the first multicellular life forms to live on land. In a geologically short time, a myriad of plant forms burst into existence. They were so prolific their remains produced most of the coal we have today.

Land formations, rocks, and plants are not gods. They are creation.

Science says “dry land” grew out of the water and plants filled the land before animals arrived. The text matches science.

Day 6 fills day 3. Critters invaded fresh waterways then ventured onto land. In a geologically short time, a myriad of forms burst into existence as land animals. Late in that process, the human lineage formed. Except for a few very distant relatives, we are the only ones left of that lineage. We have knowledge like our creator. We are creators like our creator. He gave us the responsibility to learn about His creation so we can govern it well. We are still learning.

Chapter 2 says God made humans from dust and animals from dirt. Dust and dirt is not the specific material clay. No biblical text says God sculpted statues than brought them to life. No biblical text requires these creations to be instantaneous or non-sequential. However, evolution theory says our lineage goes all the way back to minerals that formed first life. We are made from the dust of the earth. Earth is made from the dust of dead stars. Stars are made from the atoms formed just after the Big Bang. Nature is one, as its creator is One.

Land animals, including humans, are not gods. They are creation.

The text matches standard paleontology and evolution theories.

The Second Creation

Genesis 2:4
This verse can be added as an ending to the Genesis 1 poem, as it returns to repeat the creed. Or it can be used as the “same” creed to begin the “second” creation story. It works equally well for both.

Genesis 2:5-6
This passage is a basic statement of causality, and stated long before Aristotle came up with the concept of causality. It does not dictate a lack of rain until Noah’s flood; instead, it is a restatement of Genesis 1 in reverse order. The Bible never says God changed the physical laws of nature to form rain.

(I paraphrase for clarity)
There was a time before man who tills the soil to grow plants.
There was a time before plants that need rain to grow.
There was a time before rain when only streams (mist etc) came up to water the earth.


How can Genesis be interpreted to agree with Theistic Evolution?
Does creation in genesis reflect reality
(Henry Stoddard) #2

@Jo_Helen_Cox
I really do like this.When your book becomes available in bookstores, please let me know.This seems to be an interesting topic. God bless.


(Jo Helen Cox) #3

Thanks!
If you send me your email through a message I will add you to my list.

Not the same topic, but from what you write here, you might like the book I published this year, God Makes Us Holy. You can find it on Amazon.com


(Jo Helen Cox) #4

@MattC
I have enjoyed reading your posts and would like your opinion of my ideas on Gen 1. Please…


(Jo Helen Cox) #5

@OldTimer
Your knowledge of the Hebrew appears incredibly strong. Please, will you give me your opinion on my Gen 1 ideas?


#6

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(George Brooks) #7

@Jo_Helen_Cox

I have to agree with the points that Eddie makes.

He writes: “I do not mean that the overall message of Genesis is opposed to good science. But you are trying to match up particular statements in Genesis with particular claims of modern evolutionary science, and when you do that, you do not succeed, for reasons I’ve already explained.”

I had the same thoughts as I was reading what you wrote.


(Benjamin Kirk) #8

Hello Jo,

This is beautiful!

I have a couple of minor scientific suggestions:

The Ancient Hebrews grouped animals the same way scientists group them. Generality lets “kind” accept “lineage” as a definition. Evolutionary theory predicts no unique creations for each species; it even predicts that boundaries between species will be fuzzy, not discrete.

They grouped animals according to similar traits (Leviticus 11). They knew those similarities showed kinship. To us, those similarities represent scientific taxonomic categories such as family and genus, a kinship of lineage. The Ancient Hebrews grouped animals the same way scientists group them.

I’d also suggest that instead of saying that the text matches science, you should say that it parallels science


(Jo Helen Cox) #9

This reply is aimed mostly at @Eddie but also @gbrooks9

I remember very little about a discourse given on concordism. I probably pieced together a general concept at the time, rolled my eyes, and started writing this post. So this is my answer, compressing chapters takes time. However, you have not given me any specific reason why this attempt “does not succeed.” You simply make a blunt statement as if your word should be enough. I can only guess you rejected my words before you read them.

I looked up concordism. Found it a few places, one on this site.

Let me get this straight. Your main objection to my post is defined by a word so unused that it is NOT listed in the main online dictionaries. It was coined in the 1950’s to help describe YEC attempts to harmonize their interpretation of the texts and their interpretation of the natural evidence. Those attempts are still ongoing. Likewise, the ID movement accepts some 21st century science conclusions, but it still requires a 1700’s concept concerning life and a traditional reading of the texts.

I am not YEC or ID or traditional. Your objections do not seem to concern the details of my harmonization of standard science and the biblical text. You object to my ATTEMPT to harmonize these two. Do you feel such an idea is foolish or unnecessary? Can you find no reason to try?

Augustine’s “attempt” to harmonize his view of science with Genesis came up with a brilliant solution in 400 AD. His reason to do so was to keep Christians from looking foolish to unbelievers. His solution still works for many Christians. He also said when our understanding of nature matured, and it would, we would need to look again at the issue.

From the description of concordism on BioLogos, the scientific evidence needed to be interpreted correctly. When that happened it would be consistent with the Bible.

Okay, that is true, the descriptions of nature have changed drastically in the last 150 years. However, the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-11 has not. It is filled with details not in the Bible stories. Those YEC attempts tried to mesh unbiblical “mythology” with science. Why would that ever work? Their propaganda is more amazing then their solutions. Most preacher’s still teach some version of a classical interpretation. Even some TC promoters prefer a myth based understanding of the text. You might fit into that category.

My solution (not complete here) rejects all of the non-biblical additions to ask HOW MUCH of Genesis 1-11 matches standard science. The answer: they match so amazingly well that only inspired texts could match so well.

Only our holy texts are so inspired. And, we can show that with the science believed by atheists. Why would you reject that proclamation without really looking at it or helping to correct it? Why is this not the TC scientist’s holy grail?


(Jo Helen Cox) #10

Thank you for the word “beautiful.” I needed that encouragement after reading the above.

FYI: Spelling and word usage in this document are not copies from my book. They are an attempt to get the info from chapters to fit into a post. Excuse for errors: I am dyslexic, spelling is a chore. Spellcheck can be a blessing and a curse (just sayin’). Yet, I force myself to reply and not panic over spelling, grammar, wrong words, and oh so many other things. So thank you for commenting on content not fumbles. Your efforts are a blessing.

Your suggested changes are very good. They may be a bit more technical than the “voice” of my book, but I will see if any fit because they are better then what I wrote here.

Matches vs parallels: I do not believe the concept of parallel is strong enough. I probably understand why you chose it, but the point in my book is the Bible’s creation stories don’t just tell similar stories but tell the exact same stories that science tells from the Big Bang to the first civilizations. Even the order is the same. Only inspired texts could possibly be so close a match. Without that sameness, our continued reliance on an assumed inspiration is wishful thinking or simply foolishness.


#11

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(GJDS) #12

While I admire the effort to find harmony between biblical passages with our understanding of the sciences (and appreciating the poetic ancients included in their writings), as a scientist I am cautious in attempts to see distinct parallels between scripture and leading edge science. I have spend some time in writing my understanding of salvation in Christ in a poem, so I can hardly be a critic of what you say. I have chosen the above quote to avoid the controversy related to Darwinian evolution - so when we consider the Big Bang, we find that before the Plank threshold, our normal way of discussing the Universe breaks down. Even a notion of a beginning, nothingness, time, space, are all spoken in mathematical terms that are not related directly to our understanding of three dimensional space and the linearity of time. We add to this the theoretical (and controversial) nature of theories of leading edge physics, and I think the need for caution is apparent. A brain ‘teaser’ that intrigues me is that the particles that physicists say make up the entire Universe lack an “isness” - that is we can never claim to identify and isolate them as existents.

These questions are related to theoretical physics which has the foremost mathematical input and extraordinary effort at experimental verification - we should exercise greater scepticism when we discuss various outlooks of biological evolution theories, as the science dealing with life and species on this earth is even more difficult and complicated.

My comments are not meant to discourage a deeper understanding of Genesis (or science), but instead to highlight the inspired nature of scared text and relate this to the intent and meaning God reveals to us through the writer and the age (period, culture) the text was written. We should remember the OT is primarily on the covenant between God and Abraham, and through Israel, to the new covenant between the Church and Christ. All else is added to enable Israel, which is now the Church of Christ, to live in faith. This is the context that provides the understanding of the Bible (and obviously that of Genesis).


#13

I’m ending my day but I’ll make just one point that I believe Jo_Helen_Cox will want to consider:

Comparisons of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 tended to frustrate me until I realized that the Genesis 2 account is the preface of the entire garden in Eden story. It is explaining the origins not of “planet earth” but the specific ERETZ (“land”) in which HA’ADAM and Eve were placed by God. So, for example, it’s not saying that the entire planet lacked natural watering from precipitation. And it also never claims that no weeds or thorns existed anywhere on the planet prior to the fall. No, it simply makes common sense that if God planted a garden in a region called Eden and placed HA’ADAM, “the red-soil human one”, within that garden preserve, we wouldn’t expect him to see any weeds or thorns in that beautiful place that was specially prepared for the man’s habitation. Not until humans were banned from that garden preserve would they experience life outside of an already planted garden. They would experience the wilderness of nature for the first time.

It has always frustrated me to hear the first two chapters of Genesis called “contradictory creation accounts”. They are two different “origins explanations” with two very different purposes. (They most likely circulated as oral tradition prior to being written down in the Torah. That history would in no way discount their role in an inspired text.)

Also, anyone familiar with Semitic literature and culture recognizes the pitfalls of anachronistically and cross-culturally applying our modern standards and cultural expectations of CHRONOLOGY (as in rigid chronological order) upon such texts. Order of presentation and order of events are not the same thing in ancient Hebrew literature. Indeed, Hebrew lacks the kinds of verbal tense inflection we tend to expect. The temporal aspects of an account were not necessarily as important to them as to us.

However, by far the biggest exegetical pitfall for the English Bible reader of the early chapters of Genesis is the misunderstanding of ERETZ (“earth” in 1611 English, but elsewhere even in the KJV Bible usually rendered as “land”, “country”, “nation”, “region”, or even "wilderness) as “planet earth” instead. The ancient Hebrews had no such concept of “planet earth” and the ERETZ (“land”) was for them basically the opposite of SKY and was also what one tilled. They didn’t think in terms of a huge globe but rather “the circle of the ERETZ”, that is, the flat circular disk surrounded by what we call the horizon. Thus, when the Bible refers to God looking down on “the circle of the earth”, the Hebrew word for SPHERE is not present. (Ken Ham gets this one quite wrong.) No, it is an example of the Bible using the language of the culture and for them the ERETZ was always a circular disk where the observer sees the circle of the earth (the horizon) in all directions equidistant from the observer.

The “creation science” claim that “the circle of the earth” is an example of the Bible recognizing that “planet earth is a sphere” is a sad example of an anachronism seeking to impose scientific knowledge on the Biblical text where it is not warranted. Instead, we should interpret that Hebrew wording according to their understanding of it—and their understanding of it was valid and reasonable for their culture.

(In fact, if someone insists on evaluating “scientific legitimacy”, one could say that their general description of their ERETZ was not at all far off track. For any observer on the earth it is entirely reasonable to regard the ERETZ on which they live to be a flat circle of land. After all, because planet earth is such a large sphere, what we observe when looking to the horizon in all directions deviates from a flat plane by only about six inches per mile. Therefore, the curvature is so slowly gradual that what one sees in all directions is reasonably close to a flat plane. Now, I’m not trying to make a concordist argument. I’m simply saying that criticizing their viewpoint as “unscientific” or “entirely wrong” is invalid. It is somewhat like obsessing on whether the sun truly rises in the east and sets in the west. We should grant them the same leeway we grant ourselves.)

I belabor these aspects of ERETZ because misunderstanding of the word explains a great many Young Earth Creationist difficulties with the Biblical text.


(Benjamin Kirk) #14

[quote=“Jo_Helen_Cox, post:10, topic:4306”]
Thank you for the word “beautiful.” I needed that encouragement after reading the above.[/quote]
You’re most welcome and deserving. Don’t let Eddie get to you.

Thank YOU. I am very sympathetic regarding dyslexia, as my wife suffers from it.

It’s up to you, of course. I would argue that changing “evolutionary theory” to “scientists” is simultaneously less technical and more accurate, because a theory cannot classify organisms. That’s the only suggestion I feel strongly about.

[quote]Matches vs parallels: I do not believe the concept of parallel is strong enough.
[/quote]Again, that’s up to you and you make a compelling case–but you might consider including that case in your essay. It was merely a suggestion.


(Jo Helen Cox) #15

I do not disagree with your sentiments. Caution is necessary. There are still big questions with no apparent answers. I deliberately did not use terms like “dark mater” or “dark energy” because we barely recognize a need for their existence let alone what they might be or if the evidence for them means something entirely different. If we only allow for a Bronze Age comprehension of reality in these texts then they become fairy tails, no true inspiration. Why should we believe that writer had a clue about spiritual things?

None of that requires a rejection to harmonization. It only shows fear of failure. The words chosen by a Bronze Age poet match words used by current standard scientists to describe the same things in the same order. When our understanding of the basics of nature changes, the inspired text will speak about that new information too. It is our religious dogma that refuses to change.


(Jo Helen Cox) #16

I did miss reading your post that you quote here. Your objections to concordism are understood by me. I agree that trying to fit those concepts into our science just does not work. For the last several hundred years, Christians desperately tried to harmonize dogmatic concepts and ideals that were never presented in the biblical texts as scientific. That never worked. I acknowledge when my version’s harmony is strained and reject it when it is forced.

However, my point was never the attempt to harmonize the “science” of a Bronze Age writer to our science. My point was that the words he used are the words used by today’s scientists, and in the same order when read poetically. It is not the “odd item” that fits, EVERY detail in Gen 1 fits and most of the details in Gen 2-11 fit. The possibility of that much “fitting” is not lucky chance or accidental.

From your answer, I it is fairly obvious you did not read my post without a HUGE amount of bias against.

I mentioned them because the definitions of concordism started and ended with YEC. It was as if you were saying my attempts would fail because all of the YEC attempts had failed.

If the Bible has any God given inspiration in it, then my attempt at harmony is not a dead end. It is a necessity to show that the texts are inspired. I reject the continued claim of inspiration given to a fairy tail or myth.


(Jo Helen Cox) #17

Totally agree with everything you have said. The book I am writing goes into some of these problems.

I am not trying to force today’s science upon the Bible writer. My point is that a God-inspired text will be “scientifically” true for the Bronze Age writer, a Greek based writer like Augustine, and for a scientist of today. It must continue to be true into the future to show inspiration. Our understanding of nature will change. It is our unwillingness to let go of past harmonization that deviates our understanding of the inspiration.


#18

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(George Brooks) #19

My issue with concordism is this, and ONLY this: when someone tries to provide a scientific explanation for each and EVERY text.

When it comes to Genesis… I think some of it is just “nice poetic filler” that has no real reference to scientific law or facts.

George


(GJDS) #20

It is the words chosen by scientists that need to be examined within the context of Church dogma dealing with sacred text that is the issue. The discussion becomes hopeless when we focus only on Neo-Darwinism, but a meaningful discussion can take lace on a broader front. For example, eternity is a concept that is increasingly understood within science as taught by Christianity. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, can now be discussed at a deeper level by considering the various models and maths debated by physicists. The act of creation is now debated as a total concept, while some see it as a “bottom up”, others as “top down” and others as an open system subject to modification. Even though people may speak of the big bang as a beginning, at a quantum mechanics, information may be obtained within a classical context, that points to a “beginning of creation”, defying a linear concept of time at a QM level. Arguments are also made regarding random, chance, causality - all concepts and words that are debated by science, and even greater speculation occurs on these early days of information concepts.

It is not fear of failure, but rather the need for debate by philosophers of science who may see both the science and philosophy, and who would enable a dialogue with theology, that is the issue. For example, atheists oppose a lot of the implications from physics for the very reason, that when understood correctly, the meaning is clearly that of Christian teachings on creation (and not mechanical putting into motion), nor an eternity of matter, nor a super dense primal atom that started a big bang.

We should endeavour to obtain a good understanding of theology, philosophy and science, before we declare these bronze age writers as primitives who lacked inspiration on spiritual matters. The Bible is probably the most scrutinised and misread book on this planet, yet the faith stands to this day - I think debates derived from attempts to fit its meaning with the latest scientific concepts can lead to mistakes. Scientific concepts have evolved greatly, and will continue to do so.