On Reading Genesis Scientifically

If you can do so without having to go to therapy, think back to the politics of high school.

As an oversimplification, there are three broad social categories of students. The first category is often called the “cool kids” group. This might be jocks, it might be preps, it might be the rich, it depends on the school. The second category is those who are not part of the “cool” group but wish they were. They might spend all four years of high school trying to get “in,” be accepted into that “cool” group. The third category is also not a part of the “cool kids.” But the difference between group two and three is that group three has no desire to try and “fit in” with the “cool kids.” They are fine with who they are and content with who their own friends are, whether that is a theater geek, a computer nerd, gamer, or just someone who likes to be at home with their family.

I see the drama of whether or not to read the book of Genesis as history/science (notice I avoided the almost useless “literally”) in a very similar way. How so?

Trying to make Genesis 1-3 a scientifically accurate account of the beginning of the world often looks like trying to make a “ computer nerd” become a “cool kid.” Sure, you can make it fit in, but it’s never comfortable. And the whole thing is based on the assumption that “cool kids” are better than “nerds.”

The same with science and the Bible. It seems that the Bible was not ever meant to be a science book. It spent its elementary and middle school days getting along just fine as either myth and/or allegory…in either case a story rich with theological import.

But once it got to high school, a group of people decided that myth wasn’t good enough. No, if it was going to be successful in life, it really needed to become a textbook. Because everyone knows that textbooks are better than stories. Textbooks are “true” while myths are “made up.” And more importantly, everyone knows that 21st century science has “gotten it right” while ancient science was completely wrong (we’ll see who still thinks this in 100 years). So, bowing to the pressure of this group, Genesis tried to fit in with the “cool kids.” But then it had to spend all of its time justifying why it was hanging out with the cool kids and was not allowed to explore the depths of who it really was. The meaning of the book was lost so that it could fit a new mold.

But it seems to me, as any mature adult will tell you, the most important thing is that you be yourself. It’s better to spend time coming to know yourself than trying to become someone else. It’s much better to be a nerd than to awkwardly try to play sports.

And the irony of high school drama, celebrated in chick flicks the world over, is that those nerds who celebrate their nerdiness, refusing to try to be something they’re not, often end up being successful and very secure in who they are. It turns out that the assumption that the “cool kids” are better than the “nerds” is short-sighted (as is the reverse – in reality, neither is better by definition).

And so, I think some Christians could learn a thing or two from 13 going on 30. The scary irony here is that those who insist on reading Genesis 1-3 as a scientifically accurate and historical account of the beginning of the universe assume that the science of today is accurate and the “standard.” That’s scary and ironic because their sworn enemy, the scientist, assumes the same thing. That is, they both agree that science is the “cool kid.” But in agreeing to this, the “conservative” Christian has just admitted that the Bible should be read in light of modern science, the very thing they say they are against.

As for me, I am neither interested, nor trained, in the sciences. And I have a sneaking suspicion that neither is Genesis (though I could be wrong). So here’s to letting Genesis be what it was created to be, whatever that is! Don’t worry Genesis, just be yourself – eventually people will accept you for who you are. I promise, It Gets Better.

*I hate that I always have to do this, but here is my disclaimer: I am not advocating for any particular reading of Genesis. The point of this post is simply to point out, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that oftentimes our reading of Genesis has an underlying agenda that we impose on the text. I don’t have a problem with different readings of Genesis. What I do have a problem with is the unquestioned assumption that Genesis must be read in this or that way because of presuppositions we bring to the text rather than what the text may or may not say about itself.

5 responses to “On Reading Genesis Scientifically

  1. Well, the ad on this page leaves nothing to interpretation.

    Anyway – I was born into a Jewish family, I was raised by that family; so I have a particular bias on Genesis, one that most people cannot share. I always looked at it as my family’s history. You know, the way you sit around and talk about what happened when Uncle Joe knocked out his two front teeth during a round of golf when he was in high school. Mom and Dad never new he got dentures… stuff like that.

    There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that you had to be there to see.

    I knew the golf would get you.

  2. Cool analogy. But question. I see how myths are not better than textbooks (and vice versa) but since myths are “made up” are they “untrue”?

    Maybe it’s not really an issue of better or worse, but of what is “entailed” to fit into, is not “cool kids”, but useful? This may be a bad analogy but off the top of my head, like becoming a “high school grad”. As useful people pass the test of graduating (I actually don’t agree that education always equals useful but for the sake of analogy), maybe these books need to pass the test (receiving the mark) of “truth”?

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