Genesis 1:1-19 (CEV)
The Story of Creation
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was barren, with no form of life; it was under a roaring ocean covered with darkness. But the Spirit of God was moving over the water.
The First Day
God said, “I command light to shine!” And light started shining. God looked at the light and saw that it was good. He separated light from darkness and named the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.” Evening came and then morning—that was the first day.
The Second Day
God said, “I command a dome to separate the water above it from the water below it.” And that’s what happened. God made the dome and named it “Sky.” Evening came and then morning—that was the second day.
The Third Day
God said, “I command the water under the sky to come together in one place, so there will be dry ground.” And that’s what happened. God named the dry ground “Land,” and he named the water “Ocean.” God looked at what he had done and saw that it was good.
God said, “I command the earth to produce all kinds of plants, including fruit trees and grain.” And that’s what happened. The earth produced all kinds of vegetation. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. Evening came and then morning—that was the third day.
The Fourth Day
God said, “I command lights to appear in the sky and to separate day from night and to show the time for seasons, special days, and years. I command them to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened. God made two powerful lights, the brighter one to rule the day and the other to rule the night. He also made the stars. Then God put these lights in the sky to shine on the earth, to rule day and night, and to separate light from darkness. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. Evening came and then morning—that was the fourth day.
In many ways it could be said that astrophycisists and cosmologists are the rock-and-roll of the 21st Century. Hollywood blockbusters are made about their lives (Stephen Hawking) and they infest BBC radio four (yes, I mean you, Professor Brian Cox!). They may have a more rigorous scientific method than the author(s) of Genesis, but owing the the mind-bendingly vast nature of the topic of study (the universe) – they only know a TINY fraction more than the author of Genesis ever did! Of course, to be fair, they freely admit this – they have no idea what MOST of the universe is made of or how it started. They cope with their ignorance far better than religion ever did!
We love cosmologists and astrophysicists – we invite them to explain massively complex things and as they try to do it we sit back either nodding sagely pretending we have the faintest idea what they are talking about, or we throw up our hands in the air and proclaim that it is all to impossible to grasp – which, to be fair, it is!
I don’t think it is going too far to suggest that they are performing a role that Priests, Theologians and incredibly brainy Greek Philosophers once performed – trying to articulate something sensible to say about a VAST truth that we are aware of and intrigued by but will never fully grasp; trying to help us understand how we might sensibly respond to the sheer scale and vastness (and also the tiny-ness!) of the universe we inhabit.
On the whole (with notable exceptions), cosmologists and astrophysicists are humble about what they know and are quick to point out that the thing we discover most is that there is yet more that we don’t know!
Of course (often with good reason) theologians and priests and philosophers are laughed at now when they try to discuss cosmology – they are the old rock-and-roll – they have had their day… cosmologists and astrophysicists should enjoy their moment in the sun, the world will eventually grow tired of them and look elsewhere for answers. (This has already begun in that in some circles, not least the White House, scientific “expertise” about the world which used to be respected is now routinely dismissed and ignored, and “alternative truth” held up as an equally valid response – see Climate Change!)
It is often said that scientists and theologians (like the authors of Genesis) can live side-by-side because they are doing different things and asking different questions. I get that to a point – it’s true, but I would still argue that in a fairly essential way they are doing exactly the same thing – looking out into the vast blackness of space and asking – “who are we?”
Of course it’s the Psalmist who asks this question most clearly:
“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”
(Psalm 8, KJV)
I’m not 100% sure I know what the consensus answer to this question IS from the cosmologists and astrophysicists, nor if I would understand it if I heard it! But I DO know what the answer of the Bible is.
In the context of this unimaginably vast universe where we might be tempted to feel like tiny specks of insignificant space-dust, God declares that we are each infinitely precious, that we are loved and that we are known. I think, deep down, that’s what we all need to know.