Recent polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe that the creation accounts in Genesis 1-3 are to be read quite literally. In fact, it is safe to say that a literal reading of the opening chapters of Genesis is a central tenet for most conservative Christianity. This was the case in my experience but no one in my background taught me what St. Augustine said about reading such texts about creation or how theories of literature actually work in terms of certain kinds of texts and how we should read them. I thus went through several phases in my journey through the minefield of questions that touch on origins and the biblical narrative.
More recently a growing number of conservative both biblical and scientific scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account, at least not literally. When asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, recently replied: "That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all."
This kind of statement would have shocked me even ten years ago. I am not only not shocked by it now but I am listening with increasing interest to the debate itself. The reasons for listening are numerous but the basic one comes down to the biblical text itself. Science has spoken. But have we understood the Bible correctly? Some believe any compromise here means that we will necessarily give up the gospel there. But how are we meant to understand this “story” of Genesis about the first two human persons? How should we understand their creation and their fall? I very much believe in creation, fall and redemption. I am just not so sure the model we have assumed from a strictly literal reading of Genesis is right. We have been wrong before about how we’ve read science and the Bible. Are we wrong again? I am not sure but like I said, I remain an inquirer who is open to learning and thinking. I know, however that this stance will invite criticism. That I cannot stop even I actually wanted to do so.
This growing debate was recently featured on NPR. If you want to listen to this engaging dialog you can hear it online. My friend John Schneider, a professor of Bible for 25 years at Calvin College, was directly impacted by this debate as reported in the NPR story. There is one thing I feel rather strongly about – how you read the creation story is not a matter of orthodoxy in the end. After all, Church Fathers were not one in their reading and this ought to at least suggest we might be wrong in our dogmatic assumptions about a monochrome way of understanding the Genesis account. Science and the Scriptures are not foes. The question remains: “How do we read the Bible faithfully and continue to listen to science at the same time?”