As this article in the Daily Mail describes:
In the Book of Genesis, God first and most famously creates heaven and earth, but 'without form', and commands: 'Let there be light.' A perfect description of the Big Bang, that founding moment of our universe some 13 billion years ago, an unimaginable explosion of pure energy and matter 'without form' out of nothing - the primordial Biblical 'void'. He then creates the dry land out of the waters, but it is the water that comes first. As Parker points out, scientists today understand very similarly that water is indeed crucial for life.
When 'astrobiologists' look into space for signs of life on other planets, the first thing they look for is the possible presence of water. On the third day, we are told: 'God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."'
Now factually speaking, grass didn't evolve until much later. In the Triassic and Jurassic epochs, the dinosaurs knew only plants such as giant conifers and tree ferns. But since grass did not in fact evolve until much later, a sternly literal-minded scientist would declare the Bible wrong, and consign it to the nearest wheelie bin.
But wait a minute, says Parker. If you take 'grass, herb and tree' to mean photosynthesising life in general, then this is, once again, spot on.And so on and so forth. Day four where the 'two lights' are created presents something of a problem for Parker but he comes up with an ingenious solution.
Parker argues that day four refers to the evolution of vision.
Until the first creatures on earth evolved eyes, in a sense, the sun and moon didn't exist. There was no creature on earth to see them, nor the light they cast. When Genesis says: 'Let there be lights... To divide the day from the night,' it is talking about eyes.
'The very first eye on earth effectively turned on the lights for animal behaviour,' writes Professor Parker, 'and consequently for further rapid evolution.' Almost overnight, life suddenly grew vastly more complex. Predators were able to hunt far more efficiently, and so prey had to evolve fast too - or get eaten.
Sure enough with the arrival of vision on the fourth day ' the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life'.
Readers of this blog will recognise this a revival of a peculiarly early modern approach to scripture. One of the characteristics of science in the era of the reformation was the decline of the textual authority of figures like Aristotle and the rise in the scientific authority of the bible. Humanist scholarship elevated both the most well preserved texts of the ancients and the de-Catholicised text of the bible as supremely reliable. It would remain there until the arrival of higher criticism. Protestant scientists followed their forebears in reading the Bible and the book of nature in tandem as complementary. However they also began a retreat from symbolic and allegorical meanings towards a far more literal treatment of the text. It was believed that the Old Testament set out in plain terms, the creation of the world, the origin of humanity and the ancient history of the world from the earliest times. In the area of natural philosophy nature was stripped of all symbolic significance in favour of facts. Early modern natural philosophers began to study such matters as the biological consequences of the fall, the effects of the flood and the tower of Babel.
One thing that caused great consternation was the age of the Old Testament patriarchs which seemed way in excess of the contemporary lifespans. Hence, sticking to a literal reading, some argued that the events described by Genesis resulted in changes to the human constitution. Richard Cumberland (1632-1718) for example, argued that Noah and his family had been able to populate the world because ‘the constitution of such long-lived men must needs be stronger than ours is and consequently more able and fit to propagate mankind to great numbers than men can and now do’.
Such approaches are now deeply unfashionable in mainstream science, but perhaps Professor Parker's new book shows there is hope of an almighty comeback.
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