Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Bible: Genesis

Reading the first chapter of Genesis won’t tell you everything you need to know about the world. But it does provide three very important bits of information to help you evaluate anything else you’ll ever learn about it: (1) there was a beginning, (2) it was created by God, and (3) it is good. You’ll never be able to prove any of these three statements. But you can’t disprove them either – not by science, or theology, or philosophy. So what’s an ordinary person supposed to think? If I’m not a trained scientist or theologian or philosopher then how can I possibly make sense of those first few critical verses from the book of Genesis?

Let’s deal with the beginning question: was there really a beginning to the universe? Just because we’re not professionally trained scientists doesn’t mean we have to remain totally illiterate in the physical sciences. We can follow scientific discoveries and advances in popular newspapers and magazines and TV programs. Good writers make complex issues simple enough for amateurs to grasp the essential points. What I gather from current Big Bang theory is that there was a definite beginning to the universe. Cosmologists have even gotten the timing down to a fairly reliable approximation of its age. This theory tends to confirm that the book of Genesis is correct on this point. There really was a beginning. But scientists aren’t sure this “beginning” was the first time there’s been a Big Bang, or it it’s just the latest one in a series. There may have been other Big Bangs. How many? We don’t know. What’s on “the other side” of our own Big Bang is lost to us, with no possibility of recovery. Why? Because space and time were created at the same instant “our” Big Bang took place. All we as human beings can really know must be known within the context of our own space and time. Anything outside this space and time are beyond our comprehension and makes no sense at all to us. Maybe the Big Bang was a one-time deal – “let there be light, and there was light.” Or maybe the universe always existed and there have been countless numbers of Big Bangs before. We just don’t know.

For the same reason, we can never know for sure whether God created the universe. God must exist outside space and time, where the human mind cannot go. So science purposefully limits itself to things that can be explained on a strictly natural level. For many people it’s common sense that God created the universe – just look at all the beauty and order around us – there had to be a Maker of all this stuff. Other people say: nonsense. You’re just finding connections because that’s what you want to believe. The universe is a cold and unforgiving place. For non-believers, there’s no divine intelligence behind it all, much less a “God” who’s a loving Father figure with tender feelings toward human beings.

The same folks who believe in God also tend to believe that the universe is good. Why? For one thing, that’s what it says in the book of Genesis. For another thing, it makes them feel good, and non-believers can’t argue against what believers feel. Those who don’t believe in God have a valid question: what’s so “good” about the universe? There may be things you personally enjoy about the world. But that’s a self-centered assessment. If you were terribly sick or if tragedy suddenly struck, then you may not think the world is so good after all. The universe is what it is: neither good nor bad, just indifferent to human beings and human concerns.

Who’s right, who’s wrong? Nobody knows. Some people think the first chapters of Genesis hold the key to the ultimate meaning of life. Others think those same chapters keep the human race bogged down in a darkness of superstition. We may all begin “In the beginning” but we soon take off in totally different directions interpreting what it all means. Someday these problems may clear up for us, but in the meantime we see as through a glass, darkly.

-- RDP


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