Mary C. White
Reflection on Creation
In 1996, I submitted three short biographies to NASA for publication. Gus Grissom, Ed White (no biological relationship to me), and Roger Chaffee died in a fire that had erupted during a routine test of the Apollo 1 space capsule on January 27, 1967. I wrote their biographies to help NASA create an online memorial to honor these three courageous men on the 30th anniversary of their tragic deaths. These biographies remain on NASA's website to this day, to remind future generations that humankind's ventures into space have been filled with both triumphs and tragedies.
I am a writer, not a scientist. Still, my work on these biographies triggered a keen interest in space travel, and a much deeper appreciation for our magnificent universe. At NASA's invitation, I attended the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia in July 1999. Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander, was at the helm. July 23, 1999 was a perfect night for the launch. Talk about a light show! NASA had put me in the VIP stands with Hillary Clinton and other dignitaries and celebrities, but I was not focused on those around me. I could barely take my eyes off Columbia, which was standing only about one mile from us on the launch pad. As the countdown began, the engines roared to life. I could feel the intense vibrations as I stood watching a massive explosion erupt under this great beast. The vibrations reached a peak, and suddenly, the shuttle majestically rose up amidst huge bursts of flames and massive clouds of white smoke.
After seeing that amazing launch, I became more interested in NASA's work, in general. I love seeing all of the photographs featured on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. The photograph for October 1, 2014 showed a stunning image from the Hubble telescope of the Butterfly Nebula (http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141001.html). Every time I view one of these photographs, my jaw literally drops in awe over the sheer beauty of the universe that surrounds me. Each photograph of a star cluster, nebula, star cloud, or supernova remnant fills me with an overwhelming sense of the Creator God, from whom I believe our universe first began.
The book of Genesis shares its own version of creation. The descriptions are similar to many creation stories from other civilizations of the same general time period. Some modern individuals still cling to the literal translation of this story, insisting that God created the world in six days. However, science simply does not support the literal translation of creation as described in the book of Genesis.
I value science, and I also believe that Scripture is the inspired Word of God. So, how do I reconcile science with Scripture? I focus on the general similarities between the two accounts, rather than on the specific differences between them.
By focusing on the basic process of evolution described in Genesis, the writings reveal that the Biblical account actually shares amazing similarities with current scientific theory.
If I break the Genesis story down to its most basic elements, it describes the creation of the universe as a process that unfolded in multiple stages. It does not matter that Genesis describes the creation of the universe over six days, and that the Big Bang Theory uses a time frame of 13.7 billion years. The fact is that both describe creation as evolving one step at a time.
Both accounts speak about impenetrable darkness at the beginning of the process. Genesis talks about there being "darkness over the deep" (Genesis 1:2). Scientist David Christian describes the period before the evolutionary process began as follows: "Imagine the darkest, emptiest thing you can, and cube it a gazillion times" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqc9zX04DXs).
Both accounts then describe the creation of light. Because Genesis was focusing specifically on the six day period of creation, it talks about the creation of light in terms of day and night. Still, the basic evolution in Genesis goes from sheer darkness to the introduction of light.
Similarly, the second threshold of evolution as described by scientist David Christian is characterized by the creation of stars, which allowed our universe to evolve from a period of utter darkness to a period in which light emerged.
The ancient writers did not have the technology to help them understand the concept of an entire solar system. However, they certainly recognized that the earth was separate from that which was above in the sky. In fact, they described a vault, or solid dome, which separated the waters of the earth from the waters in the heavens. This vault also contained lights that ruled both the day (the sun) and the night (the moon and stars).
We have the benefit of scientific advances that have allowed us to peer deep into the universe to unlock many of its mysteries. After the creation of stars (light), the next scientific threshold involved the explosion of these large stars, which led to the formation of all the elements in the periodic table. Our solar system ultimately evolved from the combination of these elements, with various planets and moons coming into existence over time. Our technology allows our understanding of our solar system to be much more detailed than what is described in Genesis. However, both accounts share the same basic concept: our earth is not the only end result from this amazing evolutionary process of creation.
The book of Genesis includes significant references to water. "Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass" (Genesis: 1:9). Water plays a crucial role in the scientific theory of evolution, as well. Science teaches us that, in order for life to evolve on earth, a perfect set of conditions had to be present, which David Christian refers to as "Goldilocks Conditions". Three separate pieces of the puzzle had to be
present at the exact same time in order for living organisms to evolve on earth. First, a perfect amount of energy had to be produced; not too much, and not too little. Second, there needed to be a diverse number of chemical elements present in the environment. Finally, there needed to be a medium that allowed atoms to hitch up and create molecules. Gases caused atoms to move far too quickly, preventing them from connecting up. Solids trapped atoms, and did not allow them to move. Only a liquid medium could allow atoms to move about freely at a reasonable speed and connect with one another.
Earth was the perfect distance from the various stars, which allowed a perfect degree of energy to exist. Earth also contained a wide variety of elements. Last, but certainly not least, the newly formed Earth had the perfect medium for generating more complex life: huge oceans of water, just like the "waters under heaven" described in Genesis 1:9.
According to Genesis, "God said, 'Let the waters be alive with a swarm of living creatures... and God blessed them saying, 'Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas" (Genesis 1:20, 22).
Scientific theory tells us that water allowed atoms to form molecules, which ultimately stabilized themselves in the form of DNA, which copied itself and spread throughout the oceans. Different organisms were able to develop, because as the DNA double helix replicated itself, it experienced an "error" in approximately every billionth copy, causing the final result to be slightly different than those copies that preceded it. As a result of this DNA replication, earth's vast oceans ultimately were filled with a wide variety of living organisms.
Genesis also discussed the life that stemmed from the earth. Plants came first, followed by the more complicated life forms, e.g. "cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds" (Genesis 1:24).
Again, this progressive form of evolution mirrors the scientific explanation. Life began as single-celled organisms which evolved into multi-celled organisms, such as fungi, fish, plants, reptiles, amphibians, and ultimately, mammals.
At the end of the creation story, Genesis finally addresses the creation of human beings. According to the Genesis account, God blessed humans, and instructed them to "be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth..." (Genesis 1:28).
Science shows the exact same thing. Our distant ancestors started out in Africa, but ultimately migrated to practically every nook and cranny of this vast earth. We also went from a simple hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming, which allowed human populations to survive and multiply at a much greater rate than ever before.
Genesis made it clear that all of God's creations were good, but the writer wanted to specifically clarify that humans were different from all other creations because both male and female were "created... in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27).
But, exactly what does Genesis mean when it talks about being made in the image of God? The Hebrew and Christian traditions often have portrayed God as a male. Paintings, carvings, and words often reference God as a male. However, Genesis insists that both male and female were made in the divine image. So, what is it that truly separates us from the rest of creation? What is it that makes humans created in the image of God?
Science supports our uniqueness. Scientist David Christian considers the appearance of humans some 200,000 years ago to be yet another major threshold in the evolution of the universe. The main difference that separated humans from all other life forms was language. Many species of life have the ability to communicate. However, as Christian states, "what makes humans different is human language. We are blessed with a language, a system of communication, so powerful and so precise that we can share what we learned with such precision that it can accumulate in the collective memory. And, that means it can outlast the individuals who learned that information, and it can accumulate from generation to generation. And that's why, as a species, we're so creative, and so powerful, and that's why we have a history (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqc9zX04DXs).
We know that virtually everything on our planet leaves its own unique carbon footprint, simply by having existed. However, humans do more than simply leave a carbon footprint. Humans have the ability to think and reflect. We also have the ability to speak about those thoughts and reflections through human language. Basically, we have the ability to communicate in such a way as to create lasting representations of our thoughts, reflections, and experiences. As David Christian states, "We seem to be the only species in four billion years to have this gift... It's what makes us different".
Science shows that human language is what distinguishes us from all other creations. We think. We reflect. We speak. We create. How is it that we were virtually the only species in four billion years to develop the gift of human speech?
Perhaps the answer can be found in the book of Genesis.
Genesis consistently portrays God as speaking prior to each creation being made. God does not simply make the various parts of the universe. The ancient author indicates numerous times that God speaks, and creation results from God's spoken words. "God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). "God said, 'Let there be a vault"... and so it was" (Genesis 1:6). "God said 'Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.' And so it was" (Genesis 1:9). "God said, 'Let the earth produce vegetation'...
And so it was" (Genesis 1:11). "God said, 'Let there be lights in the vault of heaven... to shine on the earth.' And so it was (Genesis 1:14). "God said, 'Let the waters be alive with a swarm of living creatures'... And so it was (Genesis 1:20). "God said, 'Let the earth produce every kind of living creature'... And so it was" (Genesis 1:24). Finally, Genesis describes how "God said, 'Let us make humans in our own image'... and God created humans in the image of God... male and female God created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).
Genesis described God as speaking. Scientist David Christian insists that human language is what makes us different. So, perhaps we are made in the image of God because God can communicate... and we are the only species in four billion years capable of doing the same.
If I had to use speech to describe God in only one word, I would use the word love. 1 John:4:8 uses the same language: "God is love."
If I had to use speech to describe how God created the universe, I would say that 13.7 billion years ago, God reflected upon God as Love. God's intense reflection upon God as Love was communicated through the monumental event that triggered the creation of the entire universe, the event we now refer to as the Big Bang.
If I had to use speech to describe why humans are different from all other creations, I would say that approximately 200,000 years ago, God reflected upon God as Love once again. This time, God's intense reflection upon God as Love was communicated in the form of male and female humans. These humans were different from all other creations, because they alone had been infused with an essence that would allow them to develop the ability to think and reflect, speak about themselves and their own experiences, and create lasting representations of those thoughts and experiences.
David Christian states that 200,000 years after humans came into existence, "... we seem to form a single global brain of almost seven billion individuals, and that brain is learning at warp speed."
I believe that the creative spark that began some 13.7 billion years ago continues to unfold. I also believe that for the past 200,000 years, humans have played a significant role in that evolutionary process. As I referenced in my first paragraph, we have used our human language... our collective memory... to go so far as to even break free of the boundaries of our own planet, and adapt to life in outer space.
The possibilities related to being created in the image of God are virtually endless.