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Appendix 5
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Appendix 5: What Genesis does and does not tell us about Creation

Genesis tells us a number of important truths about God's creation, notably God's purposes and values. In particular, each of the following truths is revealed by the Bible's account of creation (not simply in Genesis 1-2) yet has been denied by various religions and philosophies throughout history.

  1. The universe has a beginning.
  2. The world is the good creation of one good God who brings order out of chaos. There are not two equal and opposing forces battling for supremacy, nor is there a pantheon of divine beings meddling in the world for their own ends, but there is one all-powerful creator who overcomes chaos and darkness by a word from his mouth.
  3. Even though God can do things instantaneously he sometimes considers it good to take time and use processes.
  4. Potential is better than impotence. In days 1-3 of the Genesis 1 account God overcomes the chaotic impotence of darkness and water with the ordered potential of light, space and land.
  5. Actual is better than potential. The filling of days 4-6 is the purpose of the preparation of days 1-3. Light (day 1) creates the possibility of stars (day 4); sea and sky (day 2) create the possibility of fish and birds (day 5); land creates the possibility of plants (day 3) which together create the possibility of land animals and, ultimately, humans (day 6).
  6. Humanity is the culmination of creation. As the image of God mankind is the last thing created and other things are created in the order of their degree of likeness to mankind: stars, fish and birds, mammals. Man is then given dominion over the rest. Interestingly in Genesis 2 the same point is made by describing man as being created first with everything else created subsequently and for his purposes, being brought to him to be named. Note that describing heavenly bodies as mere "lights" and as least important in the order of creation was highly significant in the ancient world where pagan cultures invariably deified them, giving them first place.
  7. Creation is essentially good. Even if now fallen and cursed, the world was created good and retains its essential goodness.
  8. Creation itself, resting in its goodness and glorifying its creator, is its own purpose. The only command given it in its pristine state is to balance the goodness of being fruitful with the goodness of taking time to rest.
  9. Cycles are good. The cycle of day and night, the seasons associated with heavenly bodies, the week of work and rest, the ocean tides: all are part of God's good plan. Cycles are characteristic of a dynamism capable of indefinite duration.
  10. Things which are evil in isolation can become a part of something good. The primordial darkness is not destroyed but becomes "night" while the primordial waters are not destroyed but become "sea", important parts of God's created order.

But Genesis does not tell us everything about creation, it does not set out chronological orders and timescales. It's simply not about this. It is a normative not a descriptive account, teleological not chronological. That's why chapter 1 is written in recursive poetic form, with evenings and mornings happening before the sun has been made. It's also why in the complementary creation account in chapter 2 things happen in a different order and on an unspecified timescale. The Bible tells us that timescales are of no real consequence to God, who is outside of linear time, and that we should not get hung up on them. When, therefore, in the Bible God talks about time sequences and orderings we should be open to meanings beyond the straightforward one. Not every time and duration in the Bible is supposed to be taken literally, for there are more important truths that God wants to communicate to us than dates and ages. In our commendable desire to faithfully receive God's word through the Bible let us not mistake the symbolism and metaphor with which he has infused it for historical assertions and literal meanings which do not stand up to scrutiny. Let us not be like the disciples who thought that Jesus' warning about "the yeast of the Pharisees" was about bread!

And let us not fear that any genuine scientific fact or discovery can ever threaten our understanding of God, whose loving purpose brought into being the wonderful creation which science investigates and describes the nature of so effectively.


(Written by the philosopher not the scientist in the author duo, which makes the point that the prime issue here is hermeneutical, not scientific.)