In one respect, the tension between evolutionists and creationists is not over the nature of science, but over the nature of genre.
In other words, did the author of Genesis 1 mean to write something in the genre of POETRY—or was he attempting to set down an account of HISTORY—of the literal beginnings of time?
There is a very good reason to think that the author meant to write poetry, as a simple look at the structure of the text reveals, for the first three days of creation MIRROR the second three days of creation:
- On the first day of creation God said “let there be light,” as well as darkness, and on the fourth day of creation he made the moving inhabitants of those realms (the sun, moon, and stars).
- On the second day God separated the waters above the earth from the waters below the earth, and on the fifth day he made the moving inhabitants of those two realms (the birds and sea creatures).
- On the third day God made the dry land and plants appear, and on the sixth day he made the moving inhabitants of that realm (the animals and man).
In other words, the author clearly structured his creation story in such a way that the “stage elements” were created on the first three days (light, waters above and below, and the land and plants) and the “actors”—the things that move about—on the second three days (sun, moon, stars, birds, fish, animals, man).
Put another way: the author poetically structured his narrative around things that “are” and things that “move”—between stage and actors.
Shakespeare, if he had ever noticed this element to the first chapter of Genesis, would have liked it, for:
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players thereof.
And why would the author of Genesis structure his narrative thus?
For one very good reason: He lived in a largely oral culture—that is, one low in literacy—and seems to have felt the need to make his story memorable—and thus easy to be told by a storyteller to a group.
A simple memnonic device such as that described above would assure that the story could be recalled easily. If you just remember, for example, on what day the dry land appears (the third day), then you can remember on what day the “actors”—the animals and man—show up (the sixth day).
I’d like to note that I wrote this entire blog post without looking at the first chapter of Genesis. I didn’t need to. Once you know the “trick” of the story—its poetic structure—you can’t forget it.
And there is an obvious benefit to reading Genesis poetically, for it frees one from all the knots of difficulty that the text implies from a literal reading (such as how the earth and plants could have arrived in the universe before the sun, moon, and stars).
After learning that the structure of Genesis 1 is poetically motivated, it is very difficult to go back to an insistence on reading the text literally—and weakens the tension inherent in trying to arbitrate between the demands of science and the demands of faith in the Bible.
Clearly the author of Genesis did not intend for his story to be read literally.
But if one nevertheless still posits a literal reading of Genesis, even in the face of its evident poetic structure, one is in the peculiar position of claiming, not just that Genesis is right and conventional science wrong about the origin of the universe, but that God made the universe to match a small group of people’s oral poetic storytelling structure.
Is that really a viable position?