As a former instructor for a Biology and Society class at LBCC, I was often asked if there were any way to interpret the Genesis creation stories so that they were compatible with the findings of modern science. My answer was always NO, not without considerable re-writing and re-defining of numerous biblical words and phrases.
Christians sometimes asked me if there weren’t still great enduring truths that could be culled from Genesis-1 and Genesis-2, such as there’s only one God behind all of creation and all humans are related? My response was that Genesis-1 also tells us that humans are not related to the other animals, a claim strongly disproved by science. Also, what makes belief in one god as opposed to a pantheon of gods (or no god) a great enduring truth? By eliminating goddesses and nature gods in favor of an all-powerful, jealous, patriarchal god, are we really better off?
Also, of course, the story in Genesis-2 ( man created first, then animals, then woman from man’s rib) does not jibe at all with modern scientific knowledge. In addition, woman is created almost as an afterthought, with man being the true “mother” of all humans. Is this some great patriarchal truth?
Also consider: This god condemned all future humanity to pain, torment and death just because the first couple (in particular, the woman), after being swayed by a talking snake, disobeyed him by taking a bite out of a forbidden fruit. If this is another great and profound truth, it’s a scary one. After all, before the first couple ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, how could they have known good from evil — that it was bad to disobey this god? And why didn’t this god want his first humans to know good from evil in the first place? In today’s world, to not know good from evil is a definition of insanity. So, what is the great enduring truth here?
I once asked a student how he could explain the fact that Genesis-1 and Genesis-2 contained two different and seemingly incompatible creation stories. He informed me that both creation stories were literally true. His pastor had told him that the man and woman created in Genesis-2 were Caucasians, whereas the humans created in Genesis-1 were the “inferior colored people” in the far away land that Adam’s son, Cain, visited after killing his brother, Abel. Well, another mystery solved.
Because of all the seismic difficulties with taking Genesis-1 and 2 as literally true, most liberal Christians largely ignore these creation stories. But then, what happens to original sin? And how does one decide which biblical stories can be ignored and which ones embody the “great truths”? If it’s through prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit, then why do answers vary so dramatically in the over 30,000 different Christian sects? Remember, both the biblical Jesus and Paul interpreted the Adam and Eve story as an actual historical event (Matt. 19:4; Romans 5:12-14; I Tim. 2:13-14). So now what?
The problem, of course, with all such selective biblical interpretations is that given our creative imaginations, any story in any book, not just the Bible, can be selectively and “deeply” probed for a whole diversity of meanings and mystical instructions. Sam Harris in The End of Faith (2004) even imbued the recipe for adding salt and pepper to a vegetable dish with deep spiritual meaning. Salt and pepper is, of course, a metaphor for the black and white aspects of our nature that comes in the form of tiny grains which teach us that “our good and bad qualities are born of the tiniest actions which color the stream of our being by force of repetition”. Deep!
Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life Sciences, Long Beach City College