And On The Seventh Day...
A Story Of Creation
By Terrell E. Arnold
As a layman, I read the Bible for the first time as a teenager, and I have referred to it countless times since. At the same time, I read pretty much everything available, including science, science fiction, the classics of literature. That includes having subscribed to and read Scientific American for more than half a century. I have been less diligent, perhaps, in attending church, but I have been no less devoted to my own spiritual well-being. Up to this point, I have never met a collision of religion and science. At a time of growing debate about how to describe how it all began-and that is what the Intelligent Design debate is about-I have asked myself numerous times how I managed to avoid that alleged conflict. Here is how.
The Genesis story of the creation of the earth and everything in it is all in Chapter 1. In 31 verses, this text more or less sequentially tracks what scientists have come to perceive as the order of events since the Big Bang. The principal confusion that arises is presentational, centering almost exclusively on how long it took rather than on what transpired. It could be that on this ground we are fixated on something like the most classic of quibbles about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But the real problem is one of story telling.
Give or take a few millennia, the Genesis story may be six thousand years old. We have no real idea when it first appeared in written form, nor do we know in what language, although Sumerian or Akkadian were available early enough. We have no idea how long the story, along with the rest of the stories of the Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, was carried in oral traditions, nor do we know, therefore, just how large a debt we have to story tellers for preserving the story for us.
It is essential to have in mind, however, that first and foremost, we are dealing with a fine piece of the story telling art. Look at the elements. We have the combination of great events, a powerful actor and a recognizable set of results. The reality check is what the beholder sees with his or her own eyes: Creation is, and it looks more or less as described.
Keep in mind also that the truth of the story does not necessarily control the art of telling it. What controls the way the story is told is the relationship between the story teller and the audience. And the way the story teller feels that relationship works most effectively is what determines the eventual form of a good story. Ask any successful comedian.
The story teller needs to package the story in a credible way and it needs to be told in a reasonable time or, around a nighttime campfire, the audience will go to bed. Thus, the elements must be familiar. The story in Genesis 1 is easy for people to follow. It introduces no strange or new terms. It does not deal with time periods that are alien to the audience. It tells of things that, however they may actually have occurred, or over what time period, are credible to the listener. Creation is that kind of story and it therefore stands infinite retelling. Perhaps from time to time hearers questioned the "six day" part of the story, but there was nothing to question about the rest of it. All the elements except the timetable were simply there for all to see.
The length of the story fits this conception better than we might expect. The 31 verses of Genesis Chapter 1 amount to a little more than 800 words. That is about 8-10 minutes of monologue for a speaker who wants listeners to hear and understand. It is interesting that the same basic rule seems to be applied by newspaper editorial page editors: An editorial or op-ed piece runs around 800 words. Maybe we have not changed very much in several millennia, and the breakfast table is not different from the campfire for purposes of this metaphor. Both Genesis Chapter 1 and the modern op-ed deal in essences, because one cannot do much more in 800 words.
But Chapter 2 of Genesis begins by saying that on the Seventh Day God rested, not that the processes of the universe stopped. The light arriving from distant stars and galaxies tells us that order widely reigns but is often punctuated by chaos. On earth the oceans rise and fall, volcanoes erupt, the earth's crust ripples, shears and trembles, while the planet slowly warms. Creation, as summarized by the Genesis story teller, may well have put all that in place, but it was set in motion, not frozen in time. The universe, as we now see it, may or may not be on some eventual path to oblivion, but it is now visibly a work in processes of change.
Where then is the problem? The basic story of Creation in Genesis 1 nominally tracks the complex events and evolutions we have learned about the universe. Put aside the earth and man centered parts of the picture because for this purpose they do not matter. All that is needed to clean up this debate is to recognize that six days of creation is a story teller's metaphor. Many scholars, including biblical, have recognized this for ages. The conflict therefore is not between science and religion; the conflict is between the keepers of religious doctrine and reality. The laws, habits, and conditions of the universe are as they are, and as we may discover them. How it was done, how long it all took or eventually will take are simply not known.
Science must work with the evidence as presented over time by the eyes and instruments available, or it becomes irrelevant. Religion must stay grounded in reality, because reality is the prime evidence for God's creation. If it cannot be related positively to the reality we all witness, then religion becomes irrelevant. Religion is man's attempt to explain creation as well as its purposes, and to argue that man has learned nothing in several millennia to improve the explanation represents an assertive blindness that will render religion ever more irrelevant. What a pity, because the work itself is magnificent.
The author is a writer and speaker on global issues and a regular columnist on He was trained as a teacher but spent most of his professional career as an officer of the US Foreign Service. He has an AB from Stanford, a Master's and a General Secondary Teaching Credential from San Jose State University. He is a graduate of the National War College, and he served as Chairman of the National War College Department of International Studies. He will welcome comments at



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