I want to thank Liza Cassity at Penguin Group USA for the courtesy copy of The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate.
The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate?
Dutton (Penguin Group USA), October 2009
Regular readers are aware of my fascination with Genesis. I am, however, usually turned off by debate disguised as discourse about the "accuracy" of Genesis. The sides are typically well-defined, immovable, and predictable. Andrew Parker's take on Genesis 1 is anything but predictable.
I am also skeptical of claims that claim to prove this or that about Genesis. They rarely, if ever, deliver. In The Genesis Enigma, the author makes no such claims. Instead, he takes the creation account of Genesis 1 and compares it with the fossil record with enigmatic results.
In his words:
Here, then, is the Genesis Enigma: The opening page of Genesis is scientifically accurate but was written long before the science was known. How did the writer of this page come to write this creation account? (emphasis is the author's)
Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself by beginning with Parker's conclusion. In his introduction, Parker outlines his thesis and makes the following comparison (edited for brevity):
Genesis - Scientific History
1. Let there be light...
The formation of the sun.
2. Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let dry land appear...
The formation of the seas and separation of the land areas.
3. Let the earth bring forth grass and herb yielding seed...
The beginnings of life, including single-celled photosynthetic organisms
4. Let there be lights…to divide the day from night...
The first eye evolved and visual information used. Lights turned on for animal behavior and evolution (emphasis added)
5. Let the waters bring forth abundantly moving creatures that hath life...
The Cambrian explosion-evolution’s Big Bang. Exclusively marine life (emphasis added).
6. God created the great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly...
Large animals evolved in the seas (sharks and squid-like animals), and later conquered the land (emphasis added).
And every winged fowl after his kind...
Animals adapted to the vision of predators, except birds, which didn’t have to because of flight. It is fascinating that sea creatures and birds are singled out because they are the main characters and exceptions in evolutionary history (emphasis added).
Generally speaking, I think creationists, who I'll call "old earth" for lack of a better term, accept some similar Genesis/evolutionary progression. What is unique about Parker's assertion, and, in my humble opinion, scientifically revolutionary, is the light switch theory and the parallel between the evolution of the eye and "let there be lights..."
The light switch theory, in short, holds that the evolution of vision is what led to the Cambrian explosion (of aquatic life). Parker suggests, "The very first eye on earth effectively turned on the lights for animal behavior and consequently for further rapid evolution, while providing accurate recognition of night and day." It's an interesting correlation which Parker attempts to make. In fact, I would suggest his whole thesis depends on it.
Using these heretofore unmade correlations, Parker determines,
In essence, when the Biblical text is taken literally, it is left in the wake of advancing science. But when it is read figuratively, it not only keep pace with the hottest science, it precedes or heralds it.
The remainder of The Genesis Enigma tracks the creation account in Genesis 1 and the correlating fossil and evolutionary record. He concludes:
We have passed from the first stage in the creation account on the Bible's opening page to the sixth, and found it all remarkably accurate, as if the modern scientific story of the universe and life were being narrated. I don't know the odds against such a parallel-against making a successful guess at the scientific orthodoxy of three thousand years in the future from a knowledge base of nothing-but they must be extraordinarily long. As I first looked through this sequence of Genesis, I did not think that we could possibly reach the end of an impartial history of the universe and life without finding more than a few obstacles. I thought Genesis would fall at the first hurdle or two. I'm amazed that we have made it to the end unscathed.
It should be obvious, but if not I'll mention that Andrew Parker, Ph.D., is a scientist, a research fellow at Oxford and a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. And as expected, the young-earth creationists/ID camp don't buy it, but neither do the other guys (I read one reviewer who actually called this intellectual suicide, yikes!).
Honestly, I don't understand the nature of the criticism. In the legal community, some judges hold to the theory that if both sides are upset, the ruling must have been fair. Such wisdom has limited application, of course, but this may be an applicable circumstance: since both opposing camps are critical of the book, perhaps the conclusions reached are fair. There's no way to know if they are entirely accurate, but perhaps they are fair.
For example, Parker does not adopt or espouse a Judeo-Christian perspective, but he does conclude:
If my inference is right, then the writer of Genesis 1, or rather the announcer of the story-Moses-surely must have received divine intervention. That is to say, he must have been spoken to by God. I would argue that the Genesis Enigma, under this line of reasoning, becomes evidence for God.
Parker is cautious, however, in his approach and confesses that his conclusions took him by surprise. He also confesses:
But I must admit, rather nervously as a scientist averse to entertaining such an idea, that the evidence that the writer of the opening page of the Bible was divinely inspired is strong. I have never before encountered such powerful, impartial evidence to suggest that the Bible is the product of divine inspiration. The Genesis Enigma may provide us with support for this proposition on a whole new level.
This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Christian perspective, but it does cross invisible scientific barriers in an attempt to bridge the (perceived) gap between science and religion.
Parker succinctly characterizes the issue he presents:
The possible explanations for this parallel between the Bible and modern science are clear-cut: Either the writer of the creation account of Genesis 1 was directed by divine intervention, or he made a lucky guess.
One thing I must give Parker immense credit for is bringing something new (the light-switch theory vis-a-vis Genesis 1) to the table. I doubt Parker will change any minds that are firmly entrenched in one camp or the other, but he deserves additional credit for extending this olive branch to the competing sides, who have yet to realize there is no reason to compete.
The Genesis Enigma is certainly interesting, it is entertaining, and thought provoking. If you are at all interested in science/religion-related issues , I encourage you to read this book. If you are prone to offense when traditional interpretations of scripture are questioned, perhaps you shouldn't.