A Letter to my Son about Creation
Chemist Ben McFarland writes a letter to his 14-year-old son explaining the story of the universe's creation.
Today you are fourteen. I am so proud of how you’ve grown up from a little drooling turkey-sized thing to the young man you are today. I keep thinking about how we really only have four more years with you until you move out to college. I’m left with too many things to say in such a short time.
You inherited half of yourself from me. I see myself in your constant reading, in the way you are interested in so many things, even in the way you file away the comics in your head. And it makes me remember what it felt like to be fourteen.
I had a lot of questions about how to put all that reading together, especially trying to reconcile the first few pages of my Bible with the first few pages of my science textbooks. After three decades of these thoughts, I’ve tried out just about every possibility to see how it works. When I was your age I read many people who insisted that the stories of the Bible and the stories of evolution don’t fit together. These people said you have to trust one set of stories and throw away the others. Creationists said throw away the science, and Isaac Asimov (my favorite science writer) said throw away the Bible.
I remember learning in church about how the six days in the first chapter of Genesis were literally 24 hours long, and each creation event was an abrupt creation from nothing. Back then, I believed them when they said that I glorified God when I trusted the Bible over the scientists. But the more I learned and the more experiments I did myself, the more I felt like there must be another way to interpret Genesis. So I went on a long journey through many perspectives on faith and science, on the way to where I am now.
I’d like to tell you where I am now in a story. I could tell you my biographical story, of how I changed my mind and why, but instead I’m reminded of the recent movie version of Noah. In the movie, Noah sits down with his family in the Ark during the deluge and tells them the story of creation. Noah’s children walked out into a new world after 40 days. For you, it’ll be four short years. You need to know where you came from. And, more importantly, that God was here before you or me, or anyone or anything.
Here are a few words trying to capture a fraction of that story, weaving together the words of Genesis 1 with the discoveries of science. I hope it helps to show you who God is.
The story starts in the darkness. In the beginning there was God. The Spirit of God fluttered over the empty chaos like a bird over the ocean. He spoke a word, and a pinpoint of something emerged, bright with light. Time and space flashed open, inflating like a balloon, obeying his command. Matter separated into pieces with positive charge and negative charge. These attracted each other like a swarm of magnets and joined into a multitude of indivisible bits that could snap together like LEGOs. God called these bits atoms. God set a limit for these atoms: they could not travel faster than light. God saw the atoms obey his limit and he saw that it was good.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass. This ends the first part of the story.
God said, “let many lights form.” God made gravity, and the atoms gathered together. Billions upon billions of atoms pressed down with enormous pressure in some places. God called these places stars, and saw that they were good. Inside the stars, some atoms were squeezed into newer, bigger atoms, and the extra energy leaked out as light. One by one, the stars caught fire, blooming like flowers. They grew, and aged, and burst like seeds, spreading the new atoms across the universe.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass. This ends the second part of the story.
And God said, “let a disc fly out from a new star and let it gather into new planets.” After an intricate dance, eight planets obeyed his call. God saw that it was good, and he called that star the sun. God set a limit: the planets settled into cycles, like dancers repeating the same steps again and again around the central star.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass. This ends the third part of the story.
One of the planets was not like the others. It was wet and open to the sun, warm but not too hot. God called this planet earth. God gave it a single moon that lit up the night sky and pulled the oceans over the dry land. God said, “let the water form a cycle of weather,” and, the water went up into clouds and came down as the rain. The water mixed with the dry land and, like an artist, drew shapes on its surface. And God said, “let a cycle of life spring up from these atoms.” And the earth brought forth tiny creatures, and they ate food that God gave them from the hot insides of the planet, in chemical cycles. God blessed them, and the creatures built shelters and grew and changed. They filled the earth, and God saw that it was good.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass. This ends the fourth part of the story.
And God said, “let the earth bring forth green things.” And plants grew from the waters and the earth. These caught the light from the sun that God made, and turned it into sweet sugar and fresh oxygen. Oxygen’s power rusted and reacted with the planet and took away most of the food. There was a famine and life fell back. But, faithfully, the sun kept giving its light, and that light became more oxygen, and the oxygen became new life. Creatures learned to breathe the new air and to use cycles of oxygen for energy and for building new things. These cells grew abundantly and joined together into animals big enough to see, but there was no one to see them yet.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass. This ends the fifth part of the story.
And God said, let the earth bring forth different kinds of animals, and the earth brought forth amphibians that crawled from the water, reptiles that basked in the sun, great sea creatures that lurked in the oceans, and birds that flew through the air. Some kinds ate plants and evolved strengths and defenses. Other kinds ate animals and evolved quickness and intelligence. Together the animals grew into cycles of biology that turned together to make ecosystems, like dancers repeating the same steps. Great extinctions pulled back on life, but great expansions of new life followed.
Then God said “to the earth, let us make humans in our image, after our likeness, male and female.” God spoke, and his breath went out, and new cycles formed in the brains of humble primates. Out of those brains emerged minds that could see, understand, and even control the plants, the cattle, and the birds. And these humans became living souls reflecting the Creator into the creation. And God blessed them and said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. I have given you all of this—take care of it.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, yes, it was very good.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass. This ends the sixth part of the story.
In the seventh part, God ended his work. The heavens and earth were complete. God set a limit: God blessed the seventh day of the week, and set it aside, so that we too can enter God’s rest.
We watch as evenings and mornings pass.
Then something happened that was not good. The father and mother of us all were deceived into believing that God was not good. They followed evil whispers and stepped outside of God’s limits. After that, all humanity followed in their footsteps, and death ruled in us because of it (Romans 5). Brother killed brother in broken, decaying cycles of greed and fear, and we were lost.
Into this darkness, God again brought light. God called a man named Abraham to leave the limits of his father’s country. From this man God called the nation Israel. The name Israel means “struggle,” and they indeed struggled with God. They received stories and limits from God, but they forgot them and failed to trust God. So God gave them judges and kings, but they fell back. The prophet Ezekiel said that one day, the light of God’s glory left them—and they did not notice (Ezek. 10:18,19).
Then, as a humble carpenter, God’s glory returned. We did not notice. His name was Jesus, and he was full of grace and truth—yet he was cut off and killed by the peoples of Rome and Jerusalem. It was another broken cycle of violence and fear.
But the broken cycle was fixed! On the third day after his death, on the first Easter Sunday, God vindicated Jesus by giving him new life. God did this through the same Spirit that formed the earth, recreating and raising Jesus from the dead, with a new body that goes beyond our limits.
The Gospel of John hints that Easter Sunday was the eighth day of creation, recorded not in rocks or trees but in transformed minds, bodies, and words (John 20:1, 19). Like the first seven days, it was a unique act of God that built on and emerged from the previous events in surprising and creative ways.
This Eighth Day is repeated when Jesus is born again in someone’s heart and mind. Together we look forward to that day when God will resurrect our bodies so that they are like Jesus,, and will restore all of God’s creation and will reveal God’s Kingdom here on earth.
If you look in the right places, with eyes of faith, you can already see God coming, as God is creating new life and filling the earth with good things throughout his community of believers. The best part is that you don’t have to just watch—you can join in as God uses your life to bring more life to this beautiful, broken world. I hope this shows you how I have found peace in reading first the Bible and then the science books. God told us some of this story in the book of nature and the book of Scripture. Part of life is putting the two together.
Now, what questions do you have? This story isn’t complete without them.
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