I think that many Christians’ perception of how science relates to the early chapters of Genesis has been affected by what I call a “Copernicus moment”. Let me explain further what I mean by this. In the sixteenth century, Nicolaus Copernicus suggested that the Solar System was heliocentric (that The Sun was at the centre of the Solar System), however he was so afraid of what the church would think of him that he only shared his ideas as he was about to die. When Galileo repeated Copernicus’s ideas at the start of the seventeenth century, he incurred the wrath of the Catholic Church, because their view was that the Solar System was geocentric (the Earth was at the centre of the Solar System). It was only as evidence increased for a heliocentric Solar System that the Church changed its long held view, and found that science and scripture could be harmonised after all.
Theologians made false scientific claims based on their understanding of the Bible, and that’s what I call “having a Copernicus moment.” And this is what I think happened in the middle of the nineteenth century as well. Evidence started emerging that the Earth was old, that species were related to each other and that life had existed on Earth for a very long time.
If you accept that Genesis chapter 1 is a literal description of God populating the Earth with life forms, and if you think that the six days of Genesis chapter 1 are literal days or perhaps short periods of time, then theories like evolution seem opposed to Bible teaching. About 160 years ago, when Charles Darwin published his theories about evolution and the origins of man, they were seen as contrary to the teaching of the Bible by many Christians and condemned as false. And that has been the position of many Christians since that time, even though scientific discovery has increasingly supported Darwin’s views.
The perception among some Christians that science is anti-God is not helpful. Science, generally speaking, is neither for nor against religion, it is simply trying to discover the truth about us and our world. We need to recognise that the scientific method has produced many discoveries and inventions which have brought us significant benefits, so when those same methods generate evidence for the evolution of life or an old universe, it is unfair to dismiss them out of hand. If God produced the Bible and created the universe, then scientific discovery and the message of God’s word should be in harmony. If we do perceive potential differences between the two, then perhaps our understanding of God’s word needs re-evaluating.
By comparing the early chapters of Genesis with the rest of the Bible and adopting an allegorical approach, we find that the Bible isn’t in opposition with science. In fact, Genesis and scientific discovery don’t overlap much at all. This is because they answer different questions. Science is trying to find out about areas like the development of life forms, whereas the Bible is telling us what the purpose of life is.