It started with a funny meme. It was a picture of several different extinct reptiles, with the caption: "R.I.P. DINOSAURS. CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S BEEN 65 MILLION YEARS ALREADY. ALWAYS IN MY THOUGHTS!" Funny stuff, right? Yet this silly meme started a FB debate that ran for over a week and more than 127 replies! Why would so many people get so worked up over a humorous picture of dinosaurs?
The answer can be found in two simple words. One is "Genesis." The other is "Evolution." Back in 1658, an Anglican bishop named James Ussher (yes, it's spelled with two S's!) added up all the genealogies in the Bible and determined that the earth was created at 8 o'clock in the morning on October 23, 4004 BC (the years I can see; how he got the exact date and time is beyond me!). Some eighty years later, the first dinosaur skeleton was unearthed and identified near Dover, England. A hundred years after that, Darwin published THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, the book that, for all practical purposes, set faith and science at war with one another; a state that continues to this day. This conflict is clearly evidenced by 127 Facebook posts arguing back and forth over whether the earth was created in six literal days, six eras of long periods of time, or in 6.5 billion years, and whether or not there was some guiding intelligence behind the beginning of life, and its diversification from single celled forms to sea slugs to fish to lizards to birds to rats to monkeys to people all the way up through the physical perfection that is Anne Hathaway. (Tip o'the hat to my celebrity crush there!)
Some Christians today still cling to the idea that the earth is only 6000 years old and that any and all deviation from that position is heresy, surrender, and the first step on a slippery slope towards atheism, communism, liberalism, uncle abuse, and dog hickeys. Others note that nowhere in the Bible does it say exactly when "in the beginning" was - and that the 6000 year figure is based on a narrow and overly literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis. Most Christians try to adopt a middle ground that acknowledges the discoveries of scientists as well as the truth of Scripture. There are a variety of positions and attitudes towards the Genesis narrative that are generally determined as much by what one believes about God and the Bible as what one believes about science. Those anxious to embrace the idea of God find a way to harmonize the two; those eager to reject God use every excuse to say "Aha! Your beloved Bible is wrong about where we came from, therefore it is wrong about EVERYTHING!"
(Nonsense on both counts, BTW!)
As a lifelong amateur archeologist and paleontologist, I have lost count of how many times I have been asked "But what about the dinosaurs? What about cave men? What about evolution?"
What about them? Creation and evolution are not a zero sum game; believing in some aspects of one does not mean you must reject all aspects of the other! When you look at life on earth, and how persistently it struggles to survive and reproduce under even the most adverse conditions, and how perfectly suited each organism is to the environment in which it resides, how can one not believe that life adapts in order to adjust to its surroundings? And yet, when one looks at the marvelous, irreducible complexity of even the simplest one celled organism, how can one possibly doubt the presence of a skilled engineer who made those tiny components so perfectly, a Grand Designer who put all the elements of life into place?
To use an analogy that my artifact hunting comrades will appreciate, you could roll ten billion flint cobbles down ten million streambeds on ten million different planets for ten million years. All that bumping and rattling and bashing would never produce a single rock with the geometrical precision and craftsmanship of a single Folsom point. And yet the simplest microorganism is a thousand times more complex than the best Folsom point ever found! How can anyone not look at all the arguments in favor of a Grand Designer - from geometrical phenomena like the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci sequences, patterns of design that pervade all manner of natural phenomena, both biological and geological, to the incredible fine-tuning of the earth for life, to the irreducible complexity of basic organic structures. Authors and scientists far more intelligent than I have argued these things back and forth for the last century and a half, and I do not pretend to have the scientific expertise to understand all the subtleties of their positions.
But this is what I have concluded, based on a lifetime of digging fossils and studying the Scriptures: First, the earth is way older than six thousand years. I have reviewed the evidence marshaled by the young earthers, I have been to their museums, and have talked with a couple of prominent advocates of that theory. Their evidence is sketchy, misinterpreted, and in a couple of cases flat out manufactured. However, I also wonder sometimes if "mainstream" scientists are really as sure as they claim to be about exactly how old the universe is or whether it has always existed, how old the earth is, and how detailed the fossil evidence of macro-evolution is. In other words, how much is really knowable?
Me, I believe that "in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; and the earth was formless and void; and darkness moved upon the face of the waters. And God said "Let there be light!" and there was light." When did that happen? NO ONE KNOWS.
Nor does it matter. Time is a human construct; we created ways to measure it and then we spend our whole lives first denying that it will effect us, but wind up trying to stave off those effects as long as possible. No matter how great the advances of modern medicine, we are mortal beings. Our bodies age, wear out, and die. I have buried my father; one day my children will bury me, and one day their children will bury them. We freak out over the concept of time because we see it as an enemy that stalks us, seeking to end our days before we are done with them. God, on the other hand, is eternal - "From everlasting to everlasting." Why should time matter to Him? II Peter says that "A day to the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day." If he had said "A million" or "A billion" instead of a thousand, the statement would hold equally true. God is above and beyond time; what cares he for our petty human notions of deadlines, of efficiency, of our tiny span of years?
In the end, science and Scripture agree: First there was something, then there was nothing. First there was lifelessness, then there was life. Where they diverge is on how nothing became something; how life came from lifelessness. Science would have us believe that there was no purpose, no reason, no explanation; suddenly in one big bang all the matter that ever has been or will be sprang into being. They would have us believe that inorganic compounds bonded together for no apparent reason and came to life - despite the fact that they have never successfully reproduced this in the lab. They would have us believe that simple one-celled organisms, lacking even the most rudimentary power tools, somehow assembled themselves into complex creatures. They would have us believe that the incredibly complex strands of DNA, containing more coded information than all 66 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, just wrote itself out of nothing, from nothing, for no reason.
I don't have enough faith to believe that.
The idea of a Creator is far more logical, far more fitting to the evidence, and far more plausible than the idea that a string of billions upon billions of random accidents, mutations, and happenstance could produce humanity. Which interpretation of Genesis is correct? The "Day Age" theory, the "Gap" theory, the "Allegorical" theory, the "Apparent Age" theory - or some combination of all the above? I have no idea. I wasn't there. But in the end, HOW God created the heavens and the earth are not nearly as important as the inevitable conclusion that they WERE created. At some point, the hand of the original Master Craftsman shaped us all from the biological clay.
So when some indignant young earther asks me: "Don't you believe Genesis?" I reply: "Of course I do."
And when some indignant atheist asks me: "Don't you believe in scientific evidence?" I say: "Of course I do."
There is more than one way to believe in Genesis, and there is more than one way to believe in science. The God who made this world and set its natural laws and processes into place gave us a brain to understand this magnificent creation. His signature is written just as clearly in the spiral arms of the Milky Way as it is in the internal structure of the paramecium - or in the majestic skeletons of those long-dead giant lizards whose fanciful image inspired this essay.