Do you believe religious people manipulate the sacred text to fit modern science?
The answer is yes, they do manipulate religious texts to fit modern science… and even more commonly, they do the opposite.
The most common version of this I encounter is what I call “the compromising creationist.”
There are biblical creationists who fully reject science and others who pick and choose what they want to believe. And there are non-Christians and many other Christians who recognize that Genesis is, at best, the recorded oral history of the Jewish people and about as far from “inerrant” as things get.
But you get a large group in the middle, though, who often refer to themselves as Old Earth Creationists. These people believe that the Bible remains perfect (or largely so) while also trying to accept modern science. They cling to ambiguity in the time periods given in creation. Modern English translations usually state that everything was created in 7 days, but the original language could also mean epochs it is argued. Thus, according to old earth creationists, the creation story of Genesis is not quite a literal story of how God brought about the universe naturally over billions of years.
This is what I have the most trouble with, though. I understand wanting to accept science without rejecting the Bible (or rejecting even just a single small and really unimportant part of it in this case), but adopting this position requires not only contortions of science, but the serious twisting of the Bible itself.
Let’s look at the creation story using Young’s Literal Translation and see how it matches up with science. Perhaps Genesis really does describe things as science has:
1 In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth —
2 the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness [is] on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God fluttering on the face of the waters,
Right, well, scientifically speaking and… in pretty much every other way, that’s a bunch of mysterious-sounding gibberish. But continuing…
3 and God saith, `Let light be;’ and light is.
Hey ho, ok… so if the universe got its start in the Big Bang, this isn’t altogether bad. I mean, big flash of light, huge release of energy… maybe the old earth creationists are right…
4 And God seeth the light that [it is] good, and God separateth between the light and the darkness,
Uh-oh, that wasn’t necessary, scientifically speaking.
5 and God calleth to the light `Day,’ and to the darkness He hath called `Night;’ and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day one.
But without a spinning globe Earth and a Sun, that’s pretty meaningless, right? Or has God declared all light to be “day” and all dark to be “night?” When I turn on the light in my living room, have I just created “day?” What about if I shine a flashlight on my street at night? And anyway, what is evening and morning without a sun or a planet?
6 And God saith, `Let an expanse be in the midst of the waters, and let it be separating between waters and waters.’
7 And God maketh the expanse, and it separateth between the waters which [are] under the expanse, and the waters which [are] above the expanse: and it is so.
Some people interpret this to be the creation of air or atmosphere, the separation of waters being sea and cloud. But clouds aren’t actually “above the expanse” are they? They aren’t above the sky, they’re in the sky. They can be really high or they can be at ground level. Also, this whole mess is a little weird still since God still hasn’t created the Earth.
8 And God calleth to the expanse `Heavens;’ and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day second.
9 And God saith, `Let the waters under the heavens be collected unto one place, and let the dry land be seen:’ and it is so.
10 And God calleth to the dry land `Earth,’ and to the collection of the waters He hath called `Seas;’ and God seeth that [it is] good.
At this point, it’s becoming clear that the ancient Hebrews considered our planet to be the entire universe, with nothing beyond it. Can we just recognize that and begin to agree that Genesis is not jiving with science yet?
11 And God saith, `Let the earth yield tender grass, herb sowing seed, fruit-tree (whose seed [is] in itself) making fruit after its kind, on the earth:’ and it is so.
12 And the earth bringeth forth tender grass, herb sowing seed after its kind, and tree making fruit (whose seed [is] in itself) after its kind; and God seeth that [it is] good;
13 and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day third.
So the plants listed did not arrive in their observed chronological order, but continuing…
14 And God saith, `Let luminaries be in the expanse of the heavens, to make a separation between the day and the night, then they have been for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years,
15 and they have been for luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth:’ and it is so.
16 And God maketh the two great luminaries, the great luminary for the rule of the day, and the small luminary — and the stars — for the rule of the night;
17 and God giveth them in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth,
18 and to rule over day and over night, and to make a separation between the light and the darkness; and God seeth that [it is] good;
19 and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day fourth.
Woah! Woah woah woah woah woah! If you’re arguing that the Genesis account describes the creation of the universe over billions of years, yet hold that grass and fruit trees came before the Sun and Moon, you are not holding to science… at all. Not even an itty bitty bit. I mean, that’s just crazy if you’re trying to match that with science. Modern science does not state that grass evolved before the advent of stars!
20 And God saith, `Let the waters teem with the teeming living creature, and fowl let fly on the earth on the face of the expanse of the heavens.’
21 And God prepareth the great monsters, and every living creature that is creeping, which the waters have teemed with, after their kind, and every fowl with wing, after its kind, and God seeth that [it is] good.
22 And God blesseth them, saying, `Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and the fowl let multiply in the earth:’
23 and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day fifth.
Well, you can’t look at the fossil record and say that fish and birds came about at the same time. Not even close. Not even in the same ballpark. Also, if we’re talking about “every living creature… which the waters have teemed with”, then you’ve got to throw whales and dolphins and other marine mammals into the mix. If you think that makes sense scientifically, you need to visit your nearest natural history museum ASAP!
24 And God saith, `Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind:’ and it is so.
25 And God maketh the beast of the earth after its kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, and God seeth that [it is] good.
The emphasis on cattle is a little weird I guess, but yeah, I guess this isn’t necessarily a whole lot worse than anything that’s come before it.
26 And God saith, `Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that is creeping on the earth.’
27 And God prepareth the man in His image; in the image of God He prepared him, a male and a female He prepared them.
28 And God blesseth them, and God saith to them, `Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over fish of the sea, and over fowl of the heavens, and over every living thing that is creeping upon the earth.’
29 And God saith, `Lo, I have given to you every herb sowing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which [is] the fruit of a tree sowing seed, to you it is for food;
Yikes, God definitely forgot about all of the poisonous plants and fruits and seeds out there. If you want to play the “Garden of Eden” card, that’s fine, but again it’s not aligning with science here… at all.
30 and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the heavens, and to every creeping thing on the earth, in which [is] breath of life, every green herb [is] for food:’ and it is so.
Scientifically, this is as bad as anything else. “Every green herb is for food”? God must have forgot how varied he made their diets.
31 And God seeth all that He hath done, and lo, very good; and there is an evening, and there is a morning — day the sixth.
Look, I’m a Christian. I follow the teachings of Jesus, I believe that God probably exists (no, I don’t know that he exists… that’s the difference between knowledge and faith folks), but if you’re going to be scientifically literate, you have no choice but to acknowledge that most or even all of Genesis is just bunk: the creation story, the global flood, the ages of the people in those stories… even the exodus from Egypt is totally unsupported by archaeology and Egyptian records.
I can obviously understand people who trust science and basic logic over a stone age text. I can also, to a far lesser extent, understand people who reject those things in order to follow the said text. But trying to combine the two just makes a big mess of both.