It’s hard to overestimate the importance of the Creation story to evangelical Christians. Battles are fought on this ground constantly. What should be taught in schools? What does it mean, what does it say about us to have a God who called us forth from nothing? I cannot begin to count the number of times I heard this story as a whole. The rise and fall of mankind is where we draw everything from.
In February of this year, Bill Nye had a public “debate” of sorts with the noted creationist Ken Ham. It was widely publicized and if you haven’t seen it… well, I can’t even say. I’ve only watched clips. I find it a little too painful, to be honest. However, I feel like there was this single thing that happened that summed everything up. They were both asked the question “What, if anything, would change your mind about your position?” Bill Nye answered immediately that all it would take for him would be evidence, give him a piece of evidence, show him the fossil record and he would change his mind in a heartbeat. Just show him the evidence. Ken Ham answered that, as a Christian nothing and no one was ever going to convince him that the word of God was not true.
Like many other things in the evangelical world, the Creation narrative has been turned into exactly this kind of black and white, live or die kind of narrative. If you do not accept the Bible as 100% factual, you have turned your back on everything in it. It cannot be True in a different way, there is only one truth that counts. Science may be trying to trick us, after all the devil is crafty. There are people in this world who literally believe that the devil has planted dinosaur bones to fool us, that the fossil record is a lie sent to tempt us. These people are not by any stretch the main voice in evangelicanism (in fact, I was not even aware they existed until the last few years) but they do exist and I think they show sort-of the far end of a desperate spectrum. It is challenging to deny scientific evidence but it is also understandable why people feel like they have to. They have been presented with cruel and impossible choices.
I knew kids who were taught Intelligent Design or even outright Creationism in their schools. As a homeschooled child, my mother had the right to teach science as she saw fit. I have half memories of so many anti-evolution videos and broadcasts. So many sermons and Sunday School lessons that backed that up, of course, but mostly I remember books and videos and other resources that were school-related, or intended to be. There was no other input. I was told that it was critical that God had created us, that we had come from someone with intention and in exactly this way. If this was not true, if evolution was instead true, then morality meant nothing, then there was no foundation of right and wrong, there was in fact no meaning for existence. I was taught to feel pity for those who believed that we were simply an accident of the universe, because how sad they must be to not believe anyone loved them as much as we knew that God did. There was no beauty or value in other creation myths or in science, only an empty, shallow world, longing for hope and a savior. I was quoted statistics of teenagers killing themselves, of the rates of drug use, abortion, and premarital sex and all of these things could be tied back, at least in part, to how we were teaching our kids that their lives had no value.
There are a few stories in Christianity that hold more weight than all the rest. This is one of those few.
Genesis Chapter 1
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
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Do you know what the weirdest thing is to me on rereading this now? How much it sounds like a story. Folks, I know people who have been in Bible studies on just the Creation saga. I’ve seen sermon series that spent a month on just this chapter. I remember conversations about what it might mean that God created light before he created the sun and the moon, how did he separate the light from the darkness? These things are discussed as completely intellectual debate. Reading it now it sounds like a fairytale. It seems like discussing the exact method by which Cinderella’s fairy godmother turned her pumpkin into a carriage. It seems like missing the point.
Look, I actually think that this section is pretty. It’s got a nice rhythm to it, as far as a way in which a God may have pulled a cosmos into existence, it’s not a terrible one. It’s a nice myth. I feel like many creation myths are kind-of beautiful, right? They’re getting at really big things, after all. But it sounds like a myth all the same. I also don’t know that it’s the best one, not that I don’t know what the best one is. I don’t like the “fill the earth and subdue it” phrase, it seems like the beginning of so many things to me. I’ve heard how that’s used and I’ve heard how the things it leads to are used. The importance of ourselves being apart and important is already there and I’m not sure how I feel about that, as opposed to religions that may have been more naturally cooperative with their surroundings. But most of this is nice, most of it seems like an okay way to talk about existence happening and finding a place in it.
It just doesn’t seem dangerous to me. It doesn’t seem critical. The fanaticism seems misplaced. If there was a God and he or she or they pulled our existence out of nothing, there could be beauty in that. We wouldn’t have known how to explain that, so we would tell a story. Because that’s what we do. And maybe that story would be True but that would not make it the facts. It doesn’t need to be. However, I also think that it can be equally true and in fact equally beautiful that perhaps we all came about by chance, that science and the universe somehow came together in ways we do not understand completely even now and those things led to us. And we both tell stories about it and work to find out more about it and both of those things are beautiful and True and tell us who we are. Not shallow and empty and without purpose, but the result of millions of chances that led us to exactly here.
That is also a story, and it’s not a bad one.