Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Stories of Life, Told in Time: A Commentary on the Bible

Biology Student 2006's picture
    In a few days, the mainstream global community will experience the annual change that signifies the “New Year.” In Times Square, a million people will count down to the beginning of the 2,007th new year. The Jewish people celebrated the 5,767th year back in September. The Chinese Buddhist calendar will assign a pig to represent the 4,705th year in February. Seemingly everyone has a different idea of how to count the passage of time, and what is conventionally accepted as the correct year by Western cultures differs significantly from other versions of time record. What exactly are we counting when we say it is the X New Year? Years since the birth of Jesus Christ? Years since humans started observing and recording lunar cycles? Years since The Buddha invited the animal kingdom to a mythical new year’s feast?
    Evolutionary scientists would have us believe that Homo sapiens have existed for approximately 200,000 years - a number far greater than those which appear on calendars, solar or lunar. Creation theorists would claim that humans came into existence a mere two days after the first fish and birds appeared on earth. All of these accounts tell basically the same story - that humans exist and have life - but they conflict drastically on matters of time. Conceivably, the order of live things coming into existence either by the will of a deity or by the force of a cosmic explosion could have been the same succession as described in the Bible, but for the creationist events to have any scientific credibility, we must stretch our definition of “day.” The Bible contends that everything animate and inanimate, live and not alive, on the earth was created within six days, and that the earth itself is about 6,000 years old. Evolutionary theory suggests that roughly four to five billion years is a more reasonable figure for the earth’s age, and that the progression of lifeform evolution took place during that entire span and continues through the present.
    The debate between scientific theory and religious faith has fostered far more than calender confusion. Several compromises can be reached using central ideas from both evolution and creationism. Should the Bible’s claim of a divine impulse serve as a more satisfying explanation for the first burst of life on the planet than Darwin’s explanation of random generation, then we can consult the school of intelligent design: A spiritual being made all the conditions possible for life to spring forth from the earth, but allowed these lifeforms’ offspring to have genetic differences, thus allowing life to enter the domain of Darwinian adaptation and evolution. Life, contend those who subscribe to this theory of intelligent design, is too complicated to explain without the inclusion of a divine force responsible for plotting at least the beginning stages of life on earth.
However, the Bible remains stubborn about G-d’s existence and His complete orchestration of the creation of life on this planet. Evolutionary theory is highly skeptical of the necessity of this G-d character’s presence in the biography of life on earth. If not to resolve the contentious diety conflict but rather to reconcile some of the timing issues surrounding the beginning of life, we can evaluate the Bible’s concept of the day. “In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth...And G-d said, Let there be light: and there was light...And G-d called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:1, 1:3, 1:5). The Jewish and the Muslim faiths have interpreted this textual excerpt in such a way that holidays begin after sundown on the “day” before the holiday actually begins. In this way, the Jewish and Muslim conception of a day is sundown to sundown, and not sunrise to sundown, as the Christan calendar directs. More relevant to the evolution/creationism discourse is the fact that these Biblical days may not have been the 24-hour concepts we now commonly accept.
    Additionally, most Biblical figures are recorded to have lived inordinately long lives, numbering in the hundreds of years, so Biblical accounting of time passage is probably not very trustworthy for those of us who rise when it’s light out, sleep when it’s dark, and celebrate our birthdays after the earth makes a full revolution around the sun marking a specific anniversary of the day we entered the world from our mothers’ wombs. Especially when we consider that the average lifespan expectancy for people in Biblical times was probably closer to 30 years than to 100, the claim that “all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died” (Genesis 5:3) seems even more specious. How are days and years equatable as units of time measurement, as this verse suggests? Perhaps “all the days that Adam lived” means that a day is a period of time of ambiguous length, and the above text can be substituted by “all the time that Adam lived.” So G-d may have taken six “days” to create the earth and all the creatures on it, but these days could have been stretches of months, decades, centuries...perhaps the billions of years that evolutionary scientists claim to be the more accurate measure. As the attorney Henry Drummond so aptly states in Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence’s infamous Inherit the Wind, “The Bible is a book. It's a good book, but it is not the only book.” We indeed should consult other books and other time-keepers, like fossils, before coming to any conclusions about the birth of life.


Maeglin's picture

Indeed, only a book.

Indeed, only a book. Yet how much more do old objects tell us than old liturature? All knowledge is grounded in faith in something or another.

My only real problem with your article is this word: "most." Specifically, "most Biblical figuresare recorded to have lived inordinately long lives." If you believe this, then you have not read past the first couple of chapters of Genesis. From Adam on to Noah lives are recorded as being rediculously long, however they are shorter for each generation, eventually evening out at 40-80 years. This would make some sense, if the world was created then there would be a lot of vigor in the earlier characters in comparison to later ones.