Creation: Genesis and Science

American Christianity seems to assume that the main question, perhaps the only question of significance, about the Genesis 2 account of creation is whether it is historically and factually true.  Yet in Orthodoxy, the importance of Genesis 2 is really found in Christ not in archeology or history.  Our whole basis of understanding Genesis 2, of sin and of salvation, are found in Jesus Christ.  From the moment of the Annunciation to the Theotokos to Holy Pascha, we find the meaning of Genesis 2.  We understand that Genesis 2 was written about Christ, so that we could understand the Messiah and God’s plan of salvation.

“This story in Genesis, then, was not intended to give us an accurate account of the origins of two people, Adam and Eve; rather; it was meant to give us a parable about two people representing humanity, giving us lessons about our relationship to each other and our relationship with God the Creator.[…]How does the fact that two different Genesis stories regarding the creation are included in the canonically recognized Genesis text affect considerations of science? Because there are two stories with different and conflicting information that are both accepted by the Church as canonical texts, we are lead to believe that it is not the facts regarding the creation that are important, but rather other information. This suggests, in fact, that the stories are not themselves meant to be absolutely accurate or to reflect scientific fact, but rather to convey certain lessons and points of importance to humanity.[…]

St. Basil the Great uses Scripture and Church Tradition to explain the theological issues, but when scientific facts are required, he utilizes the scientific conclusions of his day as his sources. This is important; St. Basil did not try to use Genesis to convey scientific truths, but rather used the Genesis text to convey spiritual and theological truths.[…]God is not a mere artist who shaped pre-existing matter and energy into the universe as we know it; God is the Creator Who fashioned everything from nothing. God created the universe from a void, from a vacuum, from nothing. Further, we learn that God created all things to be good – there is no distinction between spiritual and material. Material things such as earth, plants, animals, our physical selves are all good because they are created by God. When God looked at His creation of the earth with animals He noted it was ‘good’. However, when God created Man, His creation became ‘very good’. This means that God’s creation became ‘very good’ with humanity.” (Gayle E. Woloschak, Beauty and Unity in Creation, pp 88-92)

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4 thoughts on “Creation: Genesis and Science

  1. oldbelieving

    Father bless,

    I think Gayle is quite wrong here. There’s no need to set up a distinction between being about history and being about Christ — these are not mutually exclusive, as Christ acts throughout history and personally entered into history.

    Met. Hierotheos Vlachos reads St. Basil rather differently: “Fourthly, Basil the Great does not entirely accept the science of his time, but he judges it by theological criteria, as can be seen in his homilies about the six days of creation.” — The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, p. 46,

    Fr. Michael Pomazansky also makes a crucial point here: “St. Basil acknowledges all the scientific facts of natural science. But he does not accept the philosophical conceptions, or the interpretations of the facts, which were contemporary to him: the mechanistic theory of the origin of the world, the teaching of the eternity and unbeginningness of the natural world [and the like] … St. Basil the Great knew how to raise himself above the theories contemporary to him concerning the basic principles of the world, and his Hexameron stands out as a bright and exalted system which reveals the meaning of Genesis, and reigns above the former [theories] as a bird soars above the creatures which are able to move only along the earth.” — Talks on the 6 Days by St. Basil the Great and Talks on the Days of Creation by St. John of Kronstadt, in Pravoslavny Put’ (The Orthodox Way) annual, 1958, pp. 39, 41

    as for the old story about supposedly contradicting accounts in Genesis, is Mrs. Woloschak able to quote even one Father saying there is a contradiction?

    St. John Chrysostom, said, in his Homily 4.8 on Genesis: “Don’t worry, dearly beloved, don’t think Sacred Scripture ever contradicts itself, learn instead the truth of what it says, hold fast what it teaches in truth, and close your ears to those who speak against it.”

    You are quite correct, Father, that Christ is the focus of Genesis, as He is the focus of the entirety of Scritpures. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why that has to mean a-historicity (and only in regards to Genesis …).

    1. Fr. Ted

      St. Basil clearly accepts a great deal of the scientific ideas of Aristotle. See for example: St. Basil: Creation and Science. Many of the “scientific” ideas he does accept would not be counted as science at all by modern standards. He is clearly “pre-scientific” in his thinking. Basil for example accepts as science that eels spontaneously generate from slime, an idea that Aristotle proposed.

      The Fathers are clearly aware that there are on the level of literal reading of Scripture, contradictions in Scripture. They often point them out. That is why they often don’t read the texts literally. Their assumption is that Scripture can’t contradict itself, so they rely on interpretation of the text to deal with the apparent contradictions. Chrysostom in his commentary on Noah and the flood is well aware that the literal telling of the story really stretches credulity. He warns his listeners not to focus too much on these points as he can see how it leads to disbelief. They in fact read the Scriptures theologically, not merely literally, to show the consistency of the Scriptures. If read literally, the Fathers are able to point out problems that occur in the reading.

      In the modern world, we don’t have the same scientific assumptions the ancients had. Our questions and frame of reference are different. We can also believe Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, but we can deal with it in modern terms: when we see a contradiction, we don’t have to go to torturous turns of logic to show that the texts don’t contradict. We can see the evidence that there are more than one story woven together. The end result is the same – we can see that read in a particular way the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. We can see more than one human hand put the text together, and we can in faith read the text without fear that it is self contradictory.

      The a-historical reading of Genesis is not only about Genesis, but that is often the text Protestant fundamentalists want to read literally. How many fundamentalists argue that we should read “love your enemies” literally? Do you ever see people arguing that we need to read Luke 6:27-30 literally?

      “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again”

      The Fathers weren’t literalists as modern American fundamentalists are. They relied on theology to read scripture, not pagan philosophy/science. They do see the contradictions in a literal reading of Scripture text, but then within their assumptions, interpret those contradictions to show a seamless wholeness to Scripture. We can do the same, but our 21st Century assumptions are very different than 4th Century assumptions.

    2. Dear oldbelieving Brother,

      You have rightly addressed the need to distinguish between science and the philosophy that is often smuggled in and falsely presented to us as an integral part of the scientific worldview. Now what you’ve presented as “philosophical conceptions” (“mechanist theories”… “unbeginningness of the natural world”) are in fact scientific questions, not philosophical ones. For example, the beginning of the universe has been postulated through the Big Bang theory and in turn, solidly confirmed through the scientific method. Also the “mechanist theories” raises legitimate questions both for theologians and scientists alike. In other words, the Bible holds that God created the world, but science unveils the mechanisms through which the world was created. There are real possibilities for a complementarity between these two perspectives.
      The real philosophical premise that we should be aware of as Christian is that of naturalism which postulates that there are only physical causes at work. Such an untestable claim is no longer in the realm of science.

  2. Pingback: Man in picture, seen from the other planets | Marcus Ampe's Space

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