The first chapters of the Bible contain timeless stories that nomadic people would have told around their campfires for centuries before they were written down. They are stories whose truth is so profound and meaningful that conventional writing could not convey its importance. The technical name for writing of this kind is ‘myth’. A myth is so full of insight that it reveals truth that a simple scientific insight would miss.
The first book of the Bible is called Genesis. It begins with a dazzling homage to the creativity of God, revealing him to be all-powerful and eternal. The story tells of day after day in which God brings everything into beautiful existence. The clear message is that all matter from dust to DNA is the consequence of God’s good plan.
An explanation of why this world of beauty became a place in which humans suffer at the hands of other follows in the compelling account of Adam and Eve.
Then there is the chronicle of Noah and the boat in which, with his family and animals, he escaped a mighty flood. The insistent theme of this story is that evil will not have the last word, because those who have put their trust in God have a destiny that is secure and eternal.
Most Christians treat these timeless stories in the spirit in which they were originally told. However, some use them to construct alternatives to mainstream scientific scholarship. In the developed world, Christians who have a ‘literal’ view of these narratives form a small but vocal group. They suggest that the cosmos is younger and smaller than mainstream science suggests. This ‘creation science’ is presented as factual in a number of schools and museums (notably in the US).
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good.
Where to find it:
About these words:
The opening words of the Bible. The date at which Genesis was written is vigorously debated. Its style suggests it is from about five hundred years before Jesus. However, the stories in it had clearly been told and retold for centuries and there is a tradition that associates it with Moses, maybe fifteen hundred years before Jesus.
And they said…
Stanley Kunitz, North American poet, 1905-2006:
The old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our mind, waiting for our call. We have need of them. They represent the wisdom of our race.
New Scientist magazine, November 2007:
The universe we live in seems to be a very unlikely place. Random processes and statistical fluctuations could easily have made it quite inhospitable to life … Are we just lucky? Or is there some deep significance to the fact that we live in a universe just right for us?