“Such is the story of heaven and earth when they were created. When Hashem made earth and heaven.” Genesis 2:4 (The Israel Bible™)
A new book written by a scholar of Judaism specifically for evangelicals, claims to bridge the gap separating science and religion, in particular regarding the contradiction between evolution and Genesis.
Lester L. Grabbe is a retired American scholar and Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism at the University of Hull, England. In his book, Grabbe asserts that “religion and science are not necessarily incompatible and they can exist side by side harmoniously so long as the respective adherents do not poach on the others’ territory.”
The book focuses on how science and faith intersect in questions about human origins.
“A number of books have been written on science/evolution and religion with the aim of showing that they need not be contradictory, but most of these books have been written by scientists,” Grabbe explained in an interview with Times of Israel. “Mine is one of the few books on the subject written by a biblical specialist.”
The book is intended as an explanation for Christian readers who have difficulty accepting evolution in the framework of their belief in creation as described in the Bible.
“It was my aim to write to evangelicals and show them that they can continue to maintain their faith stance but also accept modern science, including the demonstrated processes of evolution,” Grabbe told Times of Israel.
He discussed his views on science and the Bible in an interview on Closer to the Truth on Public Broadcasting System. Grabbe described himself as being raised a Christian home in the American bible-belt and being “anti-evolution.”
Despite this disinclination, he developed an interest in paleontology and aspired to become a scientist.
“As a believer, I rejected evolution,” Grabbe said.
He went on to earn a Ph.D. in religion, although his love of science persisted. He made peace between the science and religion by adjusting his perspective on the Bible.
“The result was to realize that there is no conflict between religion and evolution,” he said.”Originally I took the fairly normal fundamentalist view that the Bible is inerrant.”
After studying the Bible in its original Hebrew and learning the historical context in which the Bible was written, Grabbe came to the conclusion the Biblical text was flawed. To illustrate his point, Grabbe cited alternative flood stories based in other cultures of the region, most notably the Gilgamesh Epic, a Mesopotamian flood story believed to have been written down in the Akkadian language in 2100 BCE.
“I came to see, as many scholars probably do, that the flood story in the Bible was borrowed from Mesopotamia,” Grabbe said. “That is to say that it wasn’t originally an Israelite story. It was borrowed and adapted for a monotheistic context.”
Grabbe argued this is also true for the story of creation as written in Genesis which he describes as poetically beautiful.
“But when you start to read through it, and you look at our understanding of modern science, well, where is the Big Bang?” Grabbe asks, admitting that the scientific theory of the Big Bang might be scrapped by scientists in the future.
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for the observable universe. Though almost universally accepted by scientists, the theory still has several problems and related issues in physics. Contrary to Grabbe’s assertion and popular belief, the Big Bang model assumes the existence of energy, time, and space, while not attempting to explain the origin of the universe.
In the interview, Grabbe goes on to discuss the story of creation, noting that despite describing the creation of light and darkness, the Bible does not specify that galaxies were created.
“Here is light and dark, but how do we fit this in with millions of galaxies?” Grabbe asked. “It doesn’t say, ‘Let there be galaxies.’”
Grabbe answers his dilemma.
“It’s [written] from a perspective of the earth and of someone living on the earth,” he said. “It becomes clear that the writer is bringing in his perspective from his own time, as he understands the universe.”
“It’s a very beautiful account but it is not a scientific account,” adding, “And why should we try to drag science into it.”
Grabbe compared the creation stories in the first two chapters of Genesis to other sections of the Bible, which describes alternate methods of creation, such as Isaiah 27.
“God creates by defeating these monsters of chaos,” Grabbe said. “That’s another account of creation, probably the original Israelite account since it is fairly common in the ancient Semitic area of the Middle-East.”
Grabbe suggested that the writer of Genesis chapter one, whom he asserts was probably writing in the Babylonian exile, based his account on the Babylonian creation myth of the Enuma Elish.
“The writer [of Genesis] is taking the Babylonian myth and demythologizing it,” Grabbe explained.
Grabbe explains in the book that much of Genesis can be understood as an allegory without losing its important theological message.
“I still think religion has a place and philosophy has a place,” Grabbe said. “Even if we start out with evolution, we start out with something. This is the real question: where did the universe come from? Where did the [physical] laws come from that make life evolve?”
He does attempt to combine science and the Biblical account in a few points.
“One theological possibility worth considering is that God created the laws of genetics and allowed living things to unfold by the inherent potential of the DNA,” he suggested in his interview.
Grabbe admitted that basing his understanding of the world on evolution leaves him with a dilemma.
“I am still stuck with the question, ‘Where did it all start?’”