Science, Religion, and Public School Education

Article excerpt

Creationists and other fundamentalist Christians continue their attempts to introduce their ideas into American school classrooms. Their efforts become monotonous, wearisome, and absurd, but they must not be ignored. Too often in the debates about the findings of modern science, the biblical thinking that lies in back of creationist efforts is ignored.

Over thirty years ago, in the Beverly Hills home of one of his supporters, I met with the famous South African paleontologist Louis Leakey. He was talking about discoveries in the Olduvai Gorge that traced human evolution back over a million years. For some reason, he felt compelled to say that these findings did not contradict the Genesis creation account because "we don't know how long a day was then--it could have been a million years." I was a guest, so I refrained from comment. His statement, was, of course, nonsense. Evolutionary research is scientific; the Genesis accounts are temple tales--religious folklore or mythology--and the differences are significant.

To begin with, the Genesis I account opens with a recognition of the existence of primeval waters as the stuff of creation--just as other ancient Near Eastern creation myths do. "When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep" is the more exact translation of the opening verse than that of the King James' version ("In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."). The latter is the basis for the "creation out of nothing" theory.

Creation, in Genesis 1, consists of placing in the primeval waters an inverted solid bowl or "firmament" (the Hebrew word indicates something "beaten out" like metal) or sky, which separates the waters "above the firmament" from those below. On the second day, a pocket is created in the primeval waters as the waters under the firmament are pressed down, so to speak, and earth is created to hold out the waters which are now beneath it. The image is that of a cheese dish submerged in a pool with the glass hemisphere keeping out waters above the dish and the wooden board keeping out the waters below. This same representation of the universe lies behind the flood account in Genesis 7 where, we are told, windows in the firmament are opened to allow the primeval waters to pour in from above, and the waters under the earth burst through to flood from below.

The concept of a day as extending from sunset to sunset is in accord with Jewish reckoning. One need only be in Mea Shearim in Jerusalem as the sabbath approaches to witness the significance of sundown for marking both the beginning and ending of this Jewish holy day. Leakey's efforts to transform the hours of the day into millions of years were pure allegory.

It is important to note that the Genesis evening-morning pattern is, in effect, before the sun is created on the fourth day. Plants came into being on the third day--before there is a sun. Impossible! Jewish temple priests could ignore photosynthesis; modern agricultural science cannot.

In 1946, Alexander Heidel published The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels--a work supported by a subvention from the Lutheran church, Missouri synod. Heidel notes that the biblical account of creation in Genesis 1 follows precisely the same day-by-day developmental pattern presented in the Babylonian version of creation. …