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The myth of Genesis

Greg Rakozy/Unsplash
Greg Rakozy/Unsplash

While compiling material for a class I was teaching on creation many years ago, I listened through a series of podcasts from William Lane Craig’s Defenders series on the subject while working out at the gym. In his typical style, Craig methodically worked through the various young and old earth theories, chronicling both the pros and cons of each one.

At the end of the last episode, Craig said: “Now I’m sure all of you want to know which theory I believe is correct.” He was spot on where I was concerned so I sat down on a weight bench, eagerly waiting for the answer. Craig paused and then said: “I have no idea.”


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The guy who possessed two Ph.D.’s, was a former seminary professor and acknowledged to be one of the world’s top Christian apologists and thinkers hadn’t reached a conclusion on Genesis? To be fair, Craig went on to explain which combination of theories he found credible and in union with Scripture but maintained he still wasn’t 100% certain how God created everything.

Completely sure that God created everything? Yes. But knowing exactly how it all happened? No.

Admitting such a thing doesn’t go over well with some Christians who assert that the first chapter of Genesis is as clear as the nose on your face. For example, I had a guy who had been attending a bible class I taught each week bail when I acknowledged I couldn’t say with confidence that the Genesis account equaled a young earth.

Now, on a high level, I appreciate the importance he put on the subject. After all, it’s one of the four major questions of life: 1. Where did I come from? 2. How should I live? 3. Why am I here? 4. Where am I going?

But is an answer to the THAT component (or efficient cause) of the where-did-I-come-from question sufficient or do you need to know all the details of the HOW part too to sleep well at night?

The candidates    

You have two core, opposing options for the efficient cause of everything that exists. There’s Naturalistic Evolution, which involves an eternal universe, no God engaged in creation, and things emerging by pure, natural processes. Then you have Theistic Creation, with God directly creating the universe and living things, but with an ongoing debate concerning how many things were originally created and how much time it took.

It's no shocker that Christians affirm option two with Scripture declaring: “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You” (Neh. 9:6).

So far so good.

But next comes the how part of creation, which divides up initially into the young and old earth camps. After that the waters get a tad muddy because there are quite a few candidates for both the young and old earth positions, all of which I chronicle in this presentation that you can freely view.

All views actually agree on more things than they disagree. They all acknowledge the direct supernatural creation of all forms of life, oppose pure Naturalism, and insist on the historicity of the Genesis account among other things. What they disagree on is the age of the earth and whether the days in Genesis are literal or allegorical.

Many Christians bristle at the allegorical/symbolic stance and idea that God may have used the same natural processes we see at work today in the beginnings of creation. They fear that such a position turns Genesis into a myth.

Maybe it does. But it’s definitely not the kind of myth that we routinely think of when we hear the word.

Historian and Old Testament expert Dr. John Oswalt trounces the idea that the Bible and the Genesis account are typical myth, as in pure fiction vs. history. In his book, The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature, Oswalt builds a case for the Bible not being myth by carefully identifying and comparing the characteristics of mythology and Scripture and concludes, “Whatever the Bible is, it is not myth. That is to say, I have concluded that the similarities between the Bible and the rest of the literatures of the ancient Near East are superficial, while the differences are essential.”

By contrast, the type of “myth” some Christian thinkers postulate for Genesis is the one put forward by C. S. Lewis who was a literary scholar at both Oxford and Cambridge, and thus more than above average when it came to evaluating literature. Of the creation account, Lewis wrote the following in his essay “Dogma and the Universe”: “The first chapters of Genesis, no doubt, give the story of creation in the form of a folk-tale.”

Lewis briefly mentioned the symbolic possibility of a creation account in his book Miracles where he defined myth as “at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination.” He expounded on the idea much more in his essay “Myth Became Fact” where he clearly stated that “myth” in this case is not fiction or falsity, saying: “Even assuming (which I most constantly deny) that the doctrines of historic Christianity are merely mythical, it is the myth which is the vital and nourishing element.”

Lewis asserted that the type of myth literature found in the creation account was a human way of attempting to explain various realities that could not be adequately described in ordinary language: “What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is), and, therefore, every myth becomes the father of innumerable truths on the abstract level.”

Lewis sums up his position by stating: “To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths … In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction.”

Now, could Lewis and others holding to an allegorical framework of creation be wrong? Of course. Could a literal six-day creation be correct or one involving a progressive process much like what we experience today? Sure.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, in his book, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom, says those and more are possible with God: “Why not an instant universe? At the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, the Bible tells that God used a wind that blew all night to split the Sea of Reeds (Ex. 14:21). Why an all-night wind rather than perhaps a hand from Heaven? That would have been much more impressive.”

Whatever the favored interpretation, the account of Genesis 1-3 is one that is history behind the literature, and needs to be because as Francis Schaeffer writes in his book The God Who is There: “Take away the first three chapters of Genesis, and you cannot maintain a true Christian position nor give Christianity’s answers.”

All of this leads me to the same situation I was in on that weight bench at the gym years ago, angry because William Lane Craig didn’t lay down a militant declaration on creation. I get his position now, and although I can discuss with you my leanings on the subject (I’m in the old earth camp) and their biblical rationale, in the end, if you press me hard, I’m going to tell you the same thing Craig did on the subject of how creation happened:

I have no idea. 

Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.

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