(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Bible and Science
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Genesis included two stories about God’s creation of the world. “The inspired author(s) of the primeval prologue drew on the manner of speaking about origins that was part of their culture and literary traditions.” (LaSor, Hubbard and Bush, Old Testament Survey) In this first part of the first story, note the assumptions about the structure of the world (e.g. waters above and below the dome of the sky).
Notice the poetic symmetry of this creation story. On Day 4, it said, God put two great lights in the heavens, after already filling them with light on Day 1. On Day 5, God caused the sea and the dome of the sky, which came into being on Day 2, to “swarm with life.” Day 6 brought creatures to live on the dry land, whose plant life was the main part of Day 3’s creative work. And it was all crowned, in verses 26-27, by God creating human beings, “male and female.”
This second creation story was folksier and less structured by far than the one in Genesis 1:1-2:3. It said God created human beings first, before any plants or animals existed—so if read as literal history, as science, this account would contradict Genesis 1. But it carried a vital theological message about who we are in relation to God and to one another.
“In the beginning,” light and darkness, life and God— when we read the prologue to his gospel, it’s clear that John wanted us to recall Genesis. It’s as though he said, “Remember the creation story? I’ve got an update— God, the creator, didn’t start things off and then forget us. He came into our darkness and lived with us, bringing light that can’t be put out.”
Luke 17:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:13-16
Jesus told the Pharisees (powerful religious leaders in his day) that his Kingdom existed in another dimension, not subject to direct observation, although they could experience it. Similarly, Paul said God is “King of kings and Lord of lords,” “has immortality” and “lives in light that no one can come near.” He was less eager to “prove” God through observation or debate than he was to rejoice in the mystery and wonder of God’s goodness.
Cosmologists and physicists today wrestle with concepts like “dark energy” and “dark matter” —unseen, largely unexplained forces that nevertheless leave signs of their existence. Faith too deals with unseen forces such as love, trust, and divine grace and steadfastness, forces that also leave signs of their existence in our lives. Faith and science are not enemies, but speak to different realms of experience.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from www.cor.org/guide.
Almighty God, we believe that you created all that is. We don’t know exactly how you did all of that, but we’re grateful for the loving, caring and majesty of the gift of life you gave us. Be with us now and every day of our lives and help us to know you better and love you even more. We offer this prayer with grateful thanks for your son, Jesus, who gave his life for us. Amen.
What mysteries of creation or science do you most want to know more about? What answers to questions do you hope to receive when you meet God in the next life?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
- Read Genesis 1:1-13. These verses tell that God is the Creator, but not how God created. Does it make life more meaningful to you to know that it originated with God, rather than as some cosmic accident? Many ancient people worshipped the forces of nature as gods. But this Biblical story said that the one true God created nature itself. How would this story have affected those ancient people? When we desperately need rain, what do we do? When we are threatened by tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, what do we do? How do you think about praying for God to bring rain on the one hand, and praying to God to protect you from the more violent forces of nature?
- Read Genesis 1:14-2:3. In the poetry of Genesis 1, God next created the sun and the moon, the creatures of the earth and, finally, human beings in God’s image. Do you see this passage as more focused on what we would call the “science” of how this all happened, or on God as the source and power behind it all? Is it possible that all these things happened over billions of years, but at God’s direction? If this happened, does that create tensions between the view that God created everything and the view that science can tell us about the physical processes involved? Can you accept the idea that God was our creator and that science describes the tools that God used? Why or why not?
- Read Genesis 2:4-25. In what ways does this story of creation differ from the one in Genesis 1:1 -2:3? In what ways does it carry the same message? Is humankind depicted as slaves to God or as companions? What does the garden that God prepared say about God’s feelings toward humans? What relationship do you think God intends today between himself and humankind? If the Bible had begun with a science lesson, describing billions of years, the speed of light and the enormity of the cosmos, would ancient people have been able to comprehend that? Doesn’t it make sense that it started with these creation stories, showing a loving and powerful God who simply had to say, “Let there be light”?
- Read John 1:1-18. “The Word became flesh…” This goes way beyond science! God came and lived among us. Why did God do this? How much of a sacrifice must it have been for God to leave his divine kingdom and become fully human? How much sacrifice for him to suffer the pains and sorrows of this life? How much must God love us to do this for us? When have scientific facts alone moved you emotionally? When has the majesty of God’s creation left you awestruck?
- Read Luke 17:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:13-16. God cannot be proved by scientific observation, but can be known by faith. Science can and does help us to describe and understand God’s creation, but does not describe God. The Bible with all its stories does, however describe and help us understand God. Do you feel that the Bible has helped you understand God? Do you think, if asked, you could help someone understand a little of what you have come to believe about God? If someone asked you, “Who is this man Jesus?” what would you say?
- Read Hebrews 11:1-6. “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” What a great way to close our discussion of creation and God’s involvement! Science has yet to fully explain many unseen forces that leave signs of their existence. In what parts of life has faith yet to deal with many unseen and unexplained issues that you wrestle with? Do you think that faith and science are opposing forces? Are you comfortable with your own faith, regardless of those who deny the truth of your beliefs?
From last week: Did you list the people you don’t care much for and are likely to see this week? Every morning, did you pray for them by name? Did you, during the week, as you met these people, try to be kind and helpful? How was your week affected?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, September 2, 2012:
We’ve learned in this series that the Bible is both a human and divine document. God is the inspiring subject of the biblical authors, and God also speaks through these writers. Yet the Bible is still written by people who saw God in the light of their history, culture and understandings. It is this human dimension that is refreshing and honest, but also where the great challenges come in.
Young earth creationists believe God dictated the story of creation, God was the only eyewitness, and God does not lie, so it must be true as written….I’ve suggested that we don’t see the Bible this way. God did not dictate the Bible. There are two different creation accounts, likely from two different times and meant to make two different points.
These creation stories sit at the very beginning of the Bible, not because God nor the Bible’s compilers thought the Bible should begin with a science lesson. They felt the Bible must begin with foundational claims about God as creator, the goodness of creation, the fact that human beings were created in God’s image, and that we were commanded by God to oversee his creation.
Genesis 1:1-2:4 is the first creation storiy–majestic and beautiful. It is not a science lecture, it’s poetry. It is not a cosmology lesson, it is a creed. It could have been set to music, or read responsively–it was certainly used in worship. Each day begins with, “And God said,” and he decrees another part of creation come into existence. Then we read, “And it was so, and God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day…the second day… the third day.”This story moves me deeply. It makes a claim not on scientific knowledge but on truth and theology. As a creed about the ultimate dependence of the universe upon God, of God’s hand in creating the universe, of God’s glory–YES! But as a scientific text, No!
Why can’t it also be a scientific text? Because, as with last week’s sermon on violence, it is rooted in ancient cosmologies that could not know what we know today. Imagine Moses or God trying to explain dark matter, or gravity, or black holes or DNA to people 3,000 years ago. When we treat this as a scientific text we not only tend to take our focus off of the point of the text, but we also create a false choice–we force people to choose between an ancient cosmology with faith, or modern science without faith.
Here are some things I see in it that point to the ancients’ limited knowledge of the universe. On day two of creation we read: “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” A dome in the midst of waters? Clearly the biblical author is speaking of the atmosphere, but waters above and below the dome? Why is our atmosphere described as a dome?
Here’s how ancients understood the universe. The earth was the center of the entire universe. Above the sky was the dome in which the sun, moon and stars circled the earth. Beyond them was water….We know today that the earth is not the center of the universe, that it is not flat, that it does not rest upon waters, that there is not a dome in the sky, that the sun, moon and stars are very different distances from the earth, and that the stuff of space is not water!
In the story God creates the plants on the third day, but does not create the sun until the fourth day! Scientifically, this doesn’t make sense. Our sun’s gravitational pull was essential to form our planet in a way that sustains life. Before the earth was formed, and certainly before we had an atmosphere that sustained plant life, there had to be a sun. But the author is capturing the best scientific thinking among the Hebrew people of their time. I’m sure the young earth creationists have some explanation for all of this, but it requires a huge leap and forces all other disciplines of science to do cartwheels just to preserve the ancient cosmology.
I look at these stories and treasure them. They speak to me deep in my soul about God and our place in the universe. But they are not where I go to learn about how the earth was created and the science behind it. Let them be poetry! Let them be a creed! Let them be the most profound truth you can know. But don’t force them to be a science lecture!…
I believe evolution explains a lot. I buy it–I think it is an amazing and beautiful explanation for how life emerges in its various forms. But it makes the most sense, to me, if there is One who is the artist, the programmer, the mind that is drawing it forward….
The second creation story, in Genesis 2:5—3:24, tells the story in a different order than Genesis 1. In the second creation story God forms man first, before trees, shrubs or any animals. From the dust of the earth he breathes into him the breath of life….
God looks at the man and sees that he is lonely–and so God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make for him a helper as his companion.”…God tells the man, “I have something in mind for you you would not believe.” God causes the man to fall asleep and takes from his side a rib and closes that place with flesh and from the rib he forms the new and improved model of the man–the woman! The man awakens and says, “This at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they will become one flesh. And they were naked and not ashamed.”
I tell that story at every wedding. Why? Not because I want to teach people human origins, but because I want to teach them about the meaning of marriage as a gift from God….
In Genesis 3 the story continues with Adam and Eve tempted to eat the forbidden fruit. They know God asked them not to. But they disobey, pain comes into the world, paradise is lost. I regularly tell this story to myself, and you. It is an archetypal story that teaches the truth about us as human beings, about the lure of temptation and the pain that comes when we stray from God’s path.
This is our story!
I love these creation stories. They are defining stories in my life. They resonate with me deeply and speak of profound truths. I don’t see them as lectures on the origins of life on our planet, but creeds and liturgies and defining stories meant to teach us about ourselves. Science and the bible are not contradictory truths, they are complementary truths. Science helps us understand the process–the how of Creation. The Bible teaches us the meaning of life and leads us to our Creator who is forever praised.
Will we ever have all the answers? Just a few unsolved problems in science:
There are many unexplained phenomena in science, or phenomena that there is no agreement on an explanation within scientific circles. Here is a list of a few of them from physics:
Accelerating universe: Why is the universe’s expansion accelerating, as we have observed? What is the nature of the dark energy driving this acceleration? If it is a cosmological constant, why is the constant so small, yet non-zero? Why isn’t it huge, as most quantum field theories predict, or zero for some yet unknown symmetry reason? What is the ultimate fate of the universe?
Dark matter: What is the nature of the material observed via only its gravitational effects (for example, in the Galaxy rotation problem)? Does such matter exist at all? (An alternate explanation could be that the equations of General Relativity are subtly wrong, for example in Modified Newtonian Dynamics).
String theory: Is string theory, or superstring theory, or M-theory, or some other variant, the “theory of everything,” or a blind alley?
Proton decay: Do protons decay? If so, then what is their half-life?
Fusion power: Is it possible to construct a practical nuclear reactor that is powered by nuclear fusion rather than nuclear fission?
Gamma ray bursts: What is the nature of these extraordinarily energetic astronomical objects?
Black holes: Do they exist? If not, what are the ultracompact supermassive objects we observe? What physics governs them?
Baryon asymmetry: Why is there far more matter than antimatter in the universe?
Gravitational waves: Is our universe filled with gravitational radiation from the big bang? From astrophysical sources, such as inspiralling neutron stars? What can this tell us about quantum gravity and general relativity?
More at source: http://www.rmcybernetics.com/science/physics/unexplained.htm
This week don’t push the questions the creation vs. evolution debate raises to the back of your mind. Think about your relationship with God, and how these questions affect that. Clarify what you believe. Next week, share your experience with the group.