Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Genesis Enigma

I read this interesting, newly published book, which I picked up at a departmental store in downtown Melbourne, on the 8 hour flight from Melbourne to Singapore.

Professor Andrew Parker is one of those scientists who are Christians that do not see a dichotomy between science and religion. Presently he teaches at Green College at the University of Oxford and at the University of Sidney. He is also the Research Leader at The Natural History Museum in London. With his impeccable scientific background, Parker attempts to approach the first two chapters of Genesis - the Creation account. He takes pains to establish at the beginning of the book of his belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. However he takes issue with those who takes the first two chapters of Genesis literally. The first two chapters should be understood as an account on how life was established on earth as by one who narrates an event. Thus the 'days' are not literal 24 hours but periods of time.

Starting from the Big Bang and using the latest scientific discoveries, Parker relates the scientific account of evolution to the first two chapters of Genesis. In the first chapter of Genesis, there is twice when God said, "Let there be light" - verse 2 and verse 14. Parker attributes the first light (v.2) to be the event after the Big Bang when energy is converted to matter thereby forming atoms and later suns, galaxies, and planets. Then he shifted his focus to earth where in the hot, volcanic surface of the earth, complex molecules came together to form single cells organism. These cells became more complex by using photosynthesis to store energy. The first complex organisms to populate the land were plants thus agreeing with the Genesis account.

It is in the second account of light (v.14) that Parker proposes his bold assertion. He suggests that the second account is when eyes were evolved. These newly evolved organisms were better at survival because they can see (see the light?). This, Parker postulates, is the reason for the fantastic expansion of new species in the Cambrian Period in earth's history. This is his 'Light Switch Theory' which won him the 'Scientist of the Year' award by The Royal Institution (London) in 2000. It is the evolution of eyes that aided in the evolution of sea creatures, birds and land animals. Parker is convinced that the evolution theory is no longer a theory but established facts. Thus he implies that creationism and intelligent design is not rational.

The main thesis of this book is that there is no way the author/authors of the first two chapters of Genesis can know enough about the Big Bang and evolution to describe so accurately the order of events for the development of life on earth. This and the question of 'what is energy' before the Big Bang is the Genesis enigma. Parker suggests that the answer can only be God.

While the scientist in me cheered Parker on as he describes the various scientific processes in his book, however the theologian in me was troubled by the way he try to fit together the Genesis account and the theory of evolution. Parker's discovery of the development of the eye as the Big Bang of evolution is a major milestone in evolution theory. However I was not comfortable when he applied it to explain the second account of 'let here be light' (Gen.1:14).

This is an admirable attempt to reconcile the theory of evolution with the first two chapters of Genesis by an eminent scientist. However, like eminent theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher in the nineteenth century who tried to reconcile Christianity to the scientific worldview, it creates more questions than answers. There will always be gaps in our understanding of God and his handiwork.

This is a good book and I will recommend it to those who wants to know more about what happens after the Big Bang and how life appears on earth.


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