The Modern Creation Story

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February 28, 2011 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Modern Creation Story

As our readers work through successive chapters of The Language of Science and Faith, Francis Collins and I hope they will become increasingly more comfortable with science and prepared to engage openly with contemporary scientific ideas about origins. We conclude the book with a reflection on what the modern creation story looks like, through biblically informed eyes.

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth.

The universe begins with a mystery called, for lack of a better term—and there once was a contest to find a better term—the Big Bang. The moment of the Big Bang is beyond the grasp of science. We cannot observe it directly; our theories take us close to that moment but stop short; and our simulations of the early universe in laboratory settings can’t get back to that point. What we can do, though, is see the results, and our simulations and theories start working just a fraction of a second after that moment of creation.

What appears at the Big Bang is what we might call the rational foundations—or the Logos—of the universe. The deepest and most fundamental laws of physics, with their various properties, emerge. These laws specify the kinds of physical interactions that can take place. Remarkably, as we saw in an earlier chapter, there are only four kinds of interactions that occur in nature: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Every event, from the thoughts in your head as you read these words, to the laughter of a toddler, to the light being produced by the sun, rests upon these four interactions.

Out of the Big Bang comes a specification that there will be only two kinds of physical objects in the world: quarks and leptons, and their mirror-image anti-particles. Protons and neutrons are composed of quarks; the electron is the best-known example of a lepton. Every physical object, from a potato chip, to the Eiffel Tower, to the diamond on an engagement ring is made from quarks and leptons.

All the natural phenomena that generate the grand narrative of the universe, no matter how rich or mundane, result from quarks and leptons interacting via four kinds of interactions. Who could possibly guess that a world defined so simply could become so interesting?

The four forces and two particles in the universe initially seem like nothing more than chaotic parts of an incomprehensibly messy maelstrom. But then things start to happen—things that no team of scientists or even science fiction writers could ever have even imagined, much less predicted. Out of what looks like chaos comes a most remarkable and transcendent order.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

The quarks, with electrical charges of 2/3 and –1/3, combine under the influence of the strong nuclear force, and soon they are all gathered into protons and neutrons, which have electrical charges of 1 and 0.

The protons, neutrons, and electrons buzz about as the universe expands and cools. As the temperature declines, the electrons drop into orbits around the protons to make hydrogen atoms—unimaginable numbers of hydrogen atoms spread across the entire universe.

All the particles in the universe are now electrically neutral; it turns out the universe has a perfect balance between the positive and negative charges. Once the particles in the universe have become atoms, with no net charge on them, the electrical force becomes far less relevant and the weaker gravitational force takes over. The hydrogen atoms are gathered by gravity into huge clusters, steadily growing until much of the hydrogen in the universe is gathered into gigantic clouds. The clouds get steadily larger in size, surpassing the moon, then the earth, then large planets like Jupiter.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.

At a critical point the gigantic clouds of hydrogen ignite. Across the universe great clouds of hydrogen turn into stars; gravity has made them so dense that the atoms are crushed together until they start to fuse. Here we discover one of the many remarkable balances in nature: the strong force cooperates intimately with this gravitational crushing, and the hydrogen atoms combine to become helium atoms. The process that generates starlight also builds the periodic table—multi-tasking on a cosmic scale—as the simplest atoms -- hydrogen -- fuse to make helium. The fusion process continues to build increasingly heavier atoms: lithium, beryllium, boron, and then the all-important carbon, and on to nitrogen, oxygen, neon, sodium, and beyond.

Some of the largest stars become overwhelmed by their own gravity and undergo catastrophic inward collapses so violent that the stars actually “bounce” and explode with the force of a billion atomic bombs. Such explosions populate vast regions of space with the elements created inside the star; the explosions are strangely orderly and eerily silent since there is no sound in space. Gravity gathers the stellar material back into big clouds again. A large cloud at the center of the explosion can become another, second generation, star.

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

The smaller clouds, with their rich roster of elements fused from hydrogen, gradually compress into balls orbiting about the second-generation star. Many of these smaller balls, which will one day be called planets, have a remarkable new kind of structure formed from chemical combinations of atoms. One interesting molecular combination is of hydrogen and oxygen and known as H2O. In most parts of the universe, this molecule is solid, in the form of ice. In other parts the H2O is a gas. But on planets exactly the right distance from a star, the H2O is liquid, a particular liquid called water.

Very complex structures, from a mechanical point of view, have been built from simple raw materials; a universe that was once nothing but vast swaths of hydrogen gas now has solar systems where chemically rich planets orbit about stars with remarkably stable outputs of light. Planets at just the right distance from their “suns” have a temperature where water is liquid. This water is surprisingly capable of encouraging the formation of ever more complex molecules like amino acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. By providing a medium where atoms and molecules can jostle around gently, various combinations can form naturally. The result is increasing complexity.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”

These complex materials grow ever more varied until one particular arrangement actually starts duplicating itself. The ability of this structure to make copies of itself from the surrounding materials enables it to dominate the local environment and soon the waters are filled with this new process. The universe has come to life. In some extraordinary sense we can now speak in meaningful terms about the universe having information—tiny blueprints that direct the formation of ever more interesting and varied forms of simple life.

Subtle interactions between these primitive life-forms as they compete for resources make them increasingly more robust, as the stronger ones reproduce themselves more effectively. The copying process, driven by a surprisingly creative set of molecular interactions, steadily and mysteriously pushes the life-forms to greater and greater complexity. The information molecule driving all this will one day be identified as DNA and discovered to have an amazing ability to both reliably makes copies of itself and to explore small variations. These explorations will allow the molecule to locate small improvements to its basic structure and then reproduce that new variation with greater efficiency until it would come to dominate.

A major change occurred when single-celled forms of life began to cooperate and form multi-celled organisms. This cooperation empowered entirely new developments that would lead to astonishing increases in complexity and sophistication. Eventually specialized functions would emerge enabling organisms to collect visual information, to hear sounds, to have body temperatures that were constant, to have solid skeletal structures that would provide enormous protection when they were on the outside and great mechanical dexterity when they were on the inside.

Then God said “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, Andover the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

As complexity increased the need to process more and more information from the external world increased also, and a remarkable central processing unit of enormous power and sophistication emerged. These brains, as they would one day be called, endowed their possessors with a growing capacity to function in the world and to understand the world.

Mysteriously these brains that evolved in response to challenges having to do with survival and reproduction acquired capacities to think about complex subjects. The capacity to do mathematics emerged and with it came increasingly deep insights into the patterns and underlying order of creation.

Eventually the most advanced of the life-forms on the planet, human beings, became deeply religious. Throughout the history of our species belief in God or gods has been close to universal. Abstractions like right and wrong, the meaning of life, and where everything came from have become critically important questions. The religious impulse developed into one of the deepest aspects of our complicated understanding of ourselves.

And God saw that it was Good.

The previous blog is adapted from The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions by Karl Giberson and Francis Collins. The book, which will appear in February 2011, is the first in a series of books that BioLogos will be producing in concert with InterVarsity Press. (Collins’s contributions to this volume ended when he became head of the NIH).


Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.


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freetoken - #52769

February 28th 2011

(The original URL for this entry was messed up, which is perhaps why there haven’t been any comments yet?)

This essay has problems, though I don’t have the time now for elaborating them in detail I still want to raise a concern about the title of this essay - “The Modern Creation Story”.

There is more than a touch of irony in that title, perhaps intended yet it is misleading. 

This essay interleaves contemporary cosmology, high energy physics, origins of life, and evolutionary theory into a few verses from Gen 1. 

Scientists do not tend to describe theories as “creation stories”.


Zac - #52826

February 28th 2011

“Scientists do not tend to describe theories as “creation stories”.”

You make a valid point, but the title was not written by someone who is claiming to be only a scientist, but also a “religious” individual. That being said, I haven’t read the book and so I do not know the full extent of Giberson’s motive. However, I will say this: I would venture a guess that Giberson, by inter-weaving the Biblical account and the modern day account, is NOT assuming that they are both forms of scientific language. Rather, he is trying to evoke a sense that these two languages, the one scientific and the other mythical, both function as forms of truth telling. The scientific account is telling the truth about the processes involved in bringing about reality as we currently know it and the mythical account is telling the truth about the origins and ontological ground from which such a universe became a possibility. Neither approach (the scientific or the mythical) should pretend to be the other, but neither should they be assumed to be in contradiction with the other.


Karl Giberson - #52851

February 28th 2011

Zac:  You make me sound so intelligent!  Thanks.


conrad - #52828

February 28th 2011

Well that is the first mention of nucleosynthesis ever seen on this web site.

WAY TO GO!
KEEP IT UP!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52829

February 28th 2011

“Subtle interactions between these primitive life-forms as they compete for resources make them increasingly more robust, as the stronger ones reproduce themselves more effectively. The copying process, driven by a surprisingly creative set of molecular interactions, steadily and mysteriously pushes the life-forms to greater and greater complexity. The information molecule driving all this.;.. and discovered to have an amazing ability to both reliably makes copies of itself and to explore small variations. These explorations will allow the molecule to locate small improvements to its basic structure and then reproduce that new variation with greater efficiency until it would come to dominate.”

This statement ignores all of the evidence that points to the changes in the environment which push evolution more clearly than genetic change.  The end of the dinosaurs & the emergence of mammals was not caused by genetic change, but by climate change.  Plants,  animals, and microbes create their own changes in the earth’s environment and they alter other life forms. 

This is the failure of Darwinian theory besides the view that that life changes because of competition which has not be proven and is belied by current studies.


Charlie W - #52852

February 28th 2011

Its an attempt to find common ground between secular science and religion, but theologically the way that Genesis is interpreted out of its order, reduces down the supernatural aspect of creation.

For example, the author, doesn’t attempt to explain God creating night and day(Gen 1:3-5) before the stars. Perhaps because these verses, cannot be explained by science and have to be categorized as a supernatural event.

The explanation of the origin of humanity, lowers humanity from being made in the image of God. Some would counter that God could use evolution for his purposes, but then we are not a special creation and cannot be referred as being the pinnacle of creation.  If this is the case how could God call it good?

Some things might remain beyond our comprehension and never be clearly explained. Therefore, unable to be labelled as fact. .

Which is why we have theories such as evolution and to be honest, the creation story.
Supporters of both theories rely upon faith to believe that their theory may be an explanation of past events.  Theologically, Genesis becomes factual, when God’s word is taken as truth. Truth, as evidenced by lives that have been transformed…  We can argue theories, but not personal testimony.


Jon Garvey - #52871

March 1st 2011

To me, the weakness of this approach is in tying in the science of creation to (primarily) Genesis 1, rather than to the whole Biblical doctrine of creation . This opens it to all the old Accommodationist problems: the validity of Genesis’ application to the science is vulnerable to criticism as per Freetoken above, and the less-than-robust treatment of Genesis as Scripture is vulnerable to attacks like those of Charlie W.

It’s not just skeptics or YEC sympathists who are nervous about that kind of synthesis. It’s as if the work of John Walton and others in freeing Genesis from the demand to be a scientific text had not happened.

It’s not that the primacy of God in these events is not true, wonderful, or even arguable from Scripture. But if you ask, “Would the author of Genesis have written the story this way if he’d known what we know about science?” I think the answer is a resounding “NO!” His concern was not about quarks, or brains, or even the development of religion, but about how Yahweh first revealed himself and established the worshipping community which, despite the disaster of sin (not mentioned in the “Modern Creation Story”) will, in Christ, eventually transform the Universe into a new Creation.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52887

March 1st 2011

Jon,

In some sense the basis of what you say is mentioned in the essay, but soft pedaled and easily overlooked. 

It says that God established the Creation on the Logos, which it labels as the rational foundation of the universe.  Interestingly the view of the universe appears to be relational and not based on Being.

Then it quotes John 1 to speak of the Word of God without using the original Greek word Logos and without making it clear that the Logos is Jesus Christ.  One could and should say that the Logos is not only rational, but also spiritual.  Jesus Christ, the Logos, is the Meaning of Life.

Sin is not a part of the Creation story.  God did not create sin, although God allowed for it.  Sin is the distortion of Creation, but the remedy, or antidote, is present in the Person of the Logos, Jesus Christ. 

Now one cannot have Jesus in the picture until after God revealed Him through God’s salvation plan.  That is why Jesus was not an obvious part of Genesis 1 and is found clearly in John 1.  To be theologically and philosophically clear Jesus, the Logos, needs a clearer and fuller role in the Modern Creation Story.  This should speak to conservative Christians, even if it upsets some of our scientific friends.


Jon Garvey - #52894

March 1st 2011

@Roger A. Sawtelle - #52887

Sin is indeed not part of the creation story, but it is central to the intentions of the writer of Genesis, whose purpose is to set out the problems which necessitate the words and events of the rest of Scripture, culminating (and rooted) of course in the coming of Jesus.

That’s why I said the Genesis author would NOT have written the creation story as this article does - he would never have wished to divorce God’s creation from the creation of man not as an intelligent, or even religious, organism, but as his chosen agent for the spiritual benefit of his creation. Neither would he have separated that from the early failure of man through rebellion.

In your preferred terminology he would never have separated the Logos as Creator from the Logos as Redeemer.


Rich Griese - #52907

March 1st 2011

It is interesting how in the beginning of the Gospel we call John the author the neo-platonic idea of the logos, but then pretty much drops it and never references it again in the rest of the the work.

Cheers! .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Rich Griese - #52908

March 1st 2011

It is interesting how the author of the Gospel we call John uses the neo-platonic idea of the logos in the opening, but then pretty much drops that and never returns to it.

Cheers! .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


JWF - #52930

March 1st 2011

I’ve only had this book a few days, and I haven’t had the chance to read though the entire text, so I’m a bit hesitant to write too much. However, I can offer that Zac (#52826) seems to understand the author’s intent.

So far I’ve found a lot of good, concise content. Is there controversy to be found in the subject matter? Sure… the book asks and answers some hard questions. However, the tone of the book is, in my opinion, quite gracious, and the text seems to welcome conversation. It gives the reader a lot to think about. I look forward to sharing the book with my friends and family. But hey, gotta go… I’m trying to finish Chapter 5.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #52978

March 2nd 2011

Rich Greise wrote:

“It is interesting how the author of the Gospel we call John uses the neo-platonic idea of the logos in the opening, but then pretty much drops that and never returns to it.”

Not really.  He or she uses the idea of Logos which is adapted from philosophy, but not the word Logos.  In other words, when Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by Me,” Jesus is saying that He is Logos of God. 

Jon Garvey,

If you read what I wrote you will see we are in basic agreement.  What I said is the basic element, which is found in the Logos- Word of God, that you and most Christians are looking for, is there in the Modern Creation Story, but it is not developed fully and properly to express the meaning that John gave it in the Gospel.

It is a good effort, but I find it ironic that the weakest parts of the Story are those which are about “Bios” (See above) and “Logos.”


conrad - #53240

March 5th 2011

“The deepest and most fundamental laws of physics, with their various properties, emerge. These laws specify the kinds of physical interactions that can take place. Remarkably, as we saw in an earlier chapter, there are only four kinds of interactions that occur in nature: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. Every event, from the thoughts in your head as you read these words, to the laughter of a toddler, to the light being produced by the sun, rests upon these four interactions.”

 THE BIBLE CONCISELY SUMMARIZES WITH THE BEAUTIFUL PHRASE,..“and the spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters.”

 You hear so much about “fine tuning” of our universe.
This split second wass when it was done,,,,, and the Bible takes note of it.

SURELY GENESIS WAS WRITTEN BY A SUPREMELY KNOWLEDGABLE BEING,.... NOT A BRONZE AGE HUMAN…BUT BY GOD HIMSELF. 


conrad - #53241

March 5th 2011

“Out of the Big Bang comes a specification that there will be only two kinds of physical objects in the world: quarks and leptons, and their mirror-image anti-particles. Protons and neutrons are composed of quarks; the electron is the best-known example of a lepton. Every physical object, from a potato chip, to the Eiffel Tower, to the diamond on an engagement ring is made from quarks and leptons.”

 Well hold on there.
Now they say ALL subatomic particles are just tiny vibrating strings,...AND THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A QUARK AND A LEPTON IS,... HOW THE STRING VIBRATES.
THEY ARE JUST DIFFERENT NOTES ,...all played on the same kind of string.
 So the universe is like a symphony orchestra.
God is the composer.


conrad - #53242

March 5th 2011

“The smaller clouds, with their rich roster of elements fused from hydrogen, gradually compress into balls orbiting about the second-generation star. Many of these smaller balls, which will one day be called planets, have a remarkable new kind of structure formed from chemical combinations of atoms. One interesting molecular combination is of hydrogen and oxygen and known as H2

O. In most parts of the universe”

 You have correctly stated that only the second generation stars and planets have elements heavier than helium,
Our solar system has many heavy elements including very heavy radioactive elements.
 Without that organic life could not exist.
So earth COULD NOT BE MADE UNTIL A GENERATION OF STARS HAD LIVED THEIR LIFE AND EXPLODED.
 
THAT IS WHY THE “EXPANSE” CREATED ON DAY TWO DID NOT COVER THE EARTH.    THERE WAS NO EARTH.
 
God created “sky” on day two.
That “sky” contained stars.
AND ONLY AFTER SEVERAL BILLION YEARS,....AFTER THOSE STARS HAD CREATED HEAVIER ELEMENTS THROUGH NUCLEOSYNTHESIS [PUSHING NUCLEONS TOGETHER],..WAS THERE MATERIAL NEEDED TO CREATE EARTH.
So can we get rid of “firmament” on day two?


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