In two recent articles I identified 3 reasons why some are surprised that a scientist can be a believer:
- Scientists are people who only believe what they can see and touch. So they are people who can’t have faith.
- Science explains a lot of things. We don’t need God to explain them.
- Science contradicts the book of Genesis.
After addressing the first reason, then the second, I finally come to the third: Does science contradict the Genesis account? If indeed we consider that the account of Genesis is historical, that it describes events that really unfolded in the literal sequence and on the timescale it tells, the clash with, to name a few, cosmology, geology, biology, paleontology, glaciology, so many fields which are not the monopoly of abominable atheists, is inevitable.
Let’s see this.
Is Genesis history?
I became a Christian in 1993 while studying for my PhD in physics. The compatibility between science and Genesis has never been a problem for me. Why? Simply because from the start it seemed obvious to me that Genesis was not a book of history or science. I never felt compelled to consider historical, real, days and plants before the creation of the Sun, a tree of life and another one of the knowledge of good and evil, a man who gives names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals in a single 24 hours day (Gen 2.20), a God walking in his garden in the cool of the day (Gen 3.8) and who would have made trees that were pleasing to the eye (Gen 2.9)… for blind beings, since the eyes of Adam and Eve would not be opened until later (Gen 3.7), if the text is to be taken literally.
For me, making this story stick to the findings of science was like wondering about the Zip code of the Good Samaritan. The importance is not there.
The Church I was a member of did not teach this reading and it was not until some 15 years later that I learned to my surprise that some Christians considered the first chapters of Genesis as historical.
What about the original sin?
Shortly after learning that some Christians had adopted a historical reading of Genesis, I learned that many of them had done so because, among other things, of the doctrine of the original sin. The idea being, for example, that, quoted from here, “We would actually agree with the atheist that evolution, if true, would disprove the need for a savior”, or alternatively, as the title of this article sums it up very directly, “No Adam, No Original Sin, No Christ”. The subject is vast, and I invite the curious reader to consult this document which lists the position of 86 theologians on the historicity of Adam and Eve. The question of the original sin comes up often.
As I said before, the idea of an historical reading of Genesis surprised me. Well, this original sin story surprised me as well. Indeed, the Church I was a member of did not teach this doctrine either and I thought it was the prerogative of Catholicism. Although I often disagreed with the Church of my Christian childhood (I left it in 2003), I do not deny its silence on the original sin. I still find that the expression “original sin” does not appear anywhere in the Bible (neither does turbocharge, I know), that this doctrine did not really take hold, I believe, until Augustine, that the Pauline passages which support it are far from being the clearest in the Bible, that verses like Ezekiel 18.19-20 clearly teach kids do not inherit the sins of their parents, and above all, that Jesus never spoke of any “original sin”. On the other hand, he clearly spoke of dying for our sins. And these were, and unfortunately still are, perfectly tangible.
Some could argue that a non-historical reading of Genesis is ultimately dictated by the “spirit of the age”. That if a twenty or twenty-first century reader does not take Genesis literally, it is precisely because he was told from kindergarten that the world is billion years old. In other words, the modern reader would succumb, consciously or not, to the pressure of modern science.
I don’t think the argument is valid, for the simple reason that the “non-literal” reading is nothing new.
Many ancient writers did not think, for example, that all the “days” of Genesis were literally 24 hours long. These include Justin Martyr (100-165), Irenaeus (130-202), Cyprian (200-258) or Victorinus of Pettau (250-304) .
Did they think the world was billion years old? Probably not. In the same way, they probably did not think the earth turns around the sun . Did other early writers think the days of Genesis were literal 24 hours days? Yes of course. But as we can see, the “literal” reading of Genesis was not universally shared, even from the very first centuries of our era.
I really don’t think that science and Genesis are opposed for the simple reason that I don’t think Genesis is a book of history or science. In addition, the insistence on an historical Genesis raises another problem: if the universe is about 6,000 years old, as one can deduct from a “literal” reading, how is it that it absolutely does not look so ? That its apparent age goes in billions of years instead of thousands? Is God deceiving us?
I have already quoted some ancient authors. It is to yet another one that I leave the last word: Origen of Alexandria, early “Church Father” astride the second and third centuries, already wrote some 1,800 years ago,
“For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a Sun, and Moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky?
And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life?
And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”
Origen, De Principiis 4:16, 3rd century AD
 More, with references, here, or in David Bercot, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, Hendrickson 1998, p. 189.
 Geocentrism was unanimous until Copernicus. I got this from my friend Pablo de Felipe who is finishing a PhD thesis on a related topic.
 Recall that in view of the observations, there’s no debate on this since, at the very, very least, 100 years.