Bill Bryson has put together a fun read. A Short History of Nearly Everything (Broadway Books, 2003) provides a chronology of science, physics, biology, the standard model of particle physics, and their evolution into … well, the theory of evolution. The journey is historical and shows how the scientific search for the building blocks of the universe—atoms, electrons, positrons, neutrons, quarks, gluons, etc.—lead to the understanding that subatomic energy can and does break through at the atomic level to create increasing complexity and life. It’s a tidy package that shows that materialism’s view of materialism is inadequate to the reality of science.
It provides a popular understanding of evolution that challenges the idea of creation ex nihilio. The Genesis story simply does not provide the detail to compete with what I will call the Bryson story.
“This book is about how it happened—in particular, how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that somehow turned into us, and also some of what happened in between and since” (p. 20).
Serious Christians have a great opportunity to understand and interact with the Bryson story. He provides many missed opportunities to demonstrate the handiwork of God from a scientific perspective. Christians can just follow along and insert God at a variety of places.
To begin with, he says, “It seems impossible that you could get something from nothing, but the fact that once there was nothing and now there is a universe is evident proof that you can” (p. 31). Thus, his story does not contradict the idea of fiat creation, it embraces it. However, both Christians and non-Christians might want to rethink that idea because there is no proof or biblical evidence that it happened that way. This may shock many Christians. However, I want to suggest that both the scientific theory of evolution and biblical creationism have assumed that Greek philosophical categories and Gnostic science are established realities.
Most biblical creationists follow modern science by believing that God first created light and somehow from the energy of light (E=MC²) matter somehow coalesced into the basic elements, which God used to create the rest of the stuff. Those biblical creationists who don’t fall into this track, tend to be satisfied with God’s fiat powers. God spoke, and it happened, and that’s good enough for me. This latter position is much closer to the actual biblical text.
What Genesis actually says is “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” ( Genesis 1:1), before the creation of light. While God didn’t say anything about heaven, He did say that “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). The closest idea that I can conger up about what this might mean suggests some sort of planetoid in the deep recesses of space, not attached to a star (sun), such that nothing can be definitively said or known about it. Though it was something, not a void, it was without form. Language cannot describe it. Yet, it was something, and that something appears to have been water (Genesis 1:2). Thus, it was a planetoid, without a sun and covered in water.
Did it come from nothing? Scripture says that God simply “created” it. It doesn’t say “out of nothing.” And “created” could be translated as “made” or “formed.” All we know for sure is that from the beginning, there were two realms that God made: heaven and earth. Bryson’s story about the forming of the Milky Way and the solar system of the Earth may be true, and may not contradict the biblical story, rightly understood.
The biblical “creation” of light may also describe the sleeping/waking cycle of consciousness rather than the physical phenomenon of light. The question to keep in mind is: what exactly did God create at the beginning? Is Genesis talking about consciousness and the light of understanding? Was God talking about the entire universe? Or was He creating a human habitat within an existing universe? In the beginning of what? Of the entire universe? Or the beginning of the story that Scripture tells, humanity’s beginning?
We are so used to thinking about creation ex nihilo that it is very difficult to entertain any other idea. This is true for both biblical creationists and godless evolutionists. However, the whole idea is very Greek and Gnostic. The actual biblical text is less ambitious, and more realistic.
Bryson’s laudable characteristic is his honesty. He accurately shows the holes and quirks in the evolutionary theory.
“Museums give the impression that we have a global abundance of dinosaur fossils. In fact, overwhelmingly, museum displays are artificial.” In the entrance hall of the natural History Museum of London is an exhibit that “is made entirely of plaster” (p. 422). “The entrance hall of the American Museum of Natural History, New York, is dominated by an even grandeur tableau: … a wonderfully impressive display –the barosaurus rises perhaps nine meters towards the high ceiling—but also entirely fake. … Visit almost any large natural history museum in the world … and what will greet you are antique models, not ancient bones. The fact is, we really don’t know a great deal about the dinosaurs” (p. 423).
Nor much about anything in the distant past, and the more distant, the less we know. So, no matter what you believe about creation or evolution, your belief is more faith than knowledge. As is mine.