Wednesday, December 09, 2009
The Universe and the Bible
The Advent meditation that I wrote for my congregation has raised an eyebrow at Viola Larson's place. Thanks to Witherspoon and to John Wilde for linking to it as well. I am glad it raised an eyebrow. The discussion illustrates the changes that have been underway for some time regarding Christianity. These changes are the result of a modern scientific worldview in conversation with a biblical worldview.
What do we do for instance when we affirm that the Universe is about 14 billion years old, Earth is four billion years old and that homo sapiens (like all living things) are the result of evolutionary processes?
1) Oh those scientists and their itching ears. Scripture warned us about these false teachers and their deceiving ways. The Bible is God's book and the Bible shows us that the world is between 6 and 10 thousand years old. Adam and Eve were real people. Jesus came down from heaven, did his business and flew up again and will return literally on the clouds before you can say Jack Robinson. The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.
2) Modern science does not contradict the Bible, but fits in it. In this view, the Bible still provides the overarching narrative for the universe even as science or a pseudo version of science is somewhat grudgingly affirmed (ie. the 6 days of Genesis 1 could mean 14 billion years). Or God made Earth and the Universe to "look old." The Bible is seen as accurate in regards to how Earth was formed and how humanity arrived on the scene. It is also accurate regarding the future of humanity, Earth, and the universe itself including Jesus returning in some literal and bodily way.
In views 1 and 2, the universe story is bound up within the biblical story.
3) The Bible is a human product. We see the Bible as a human story within the larger picture of the cosmic story. While the various authors of Genesis 1 and 2 might have thought their version of creation was how it played out, we have moved beyond them. Nevertheless we can appreciate poetry, story, and art. It is a story of humanity seeking meaning. Jesus born of a virgin, dying, rising, ascending, returning, might have been understood by these early believers in some literal way. They lived within a worldview in which those narratives could have been plausible. The meaning behind those narratives, the heart of them, was that the values of Jesus (such as compassion) are worth living. As opposed to the dominance of Empire, the compassion and wisdom of Jesus and the prophets is a worthy hope to embrace. In this view the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and all the myths of the ancients are a testament to human creativity. The symbols of faith reveal a truth and open us to a beauty that we wouldn't know without them.
4) The Bible is superstition and we do well do treat it as such. Religion is false and harmful.
In views three and four, the biblical story (like all religious literature) is bound up within the universe story.
As you can tell by my rhetoric, the view with the longest explanation and least amount of snark is my view (#3).
Since I invented the categories and made up the explanations to go with them, the only person I will convince is me.
So how do you see the relation between the universe story and the biblical story?
For extra credit: if you identify as Christian, what does Advent mean to you?