“I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals or would sit in judgment on the creatures of His own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance, but for us, not for God (Albert Einstein, from a letter written in 1927).”
In Genesis, the Creator fashions the earth, the oceans, the mountains and rivers, the sun, moon and stars and all living things in six days by separating water with a dome and placing lights in the dome “to give light upon the earth (Genesis 1.15).”
At the time of the writing of Genesis, approximately three-thousand years ago, the texts of the Old Testament told a creation story of the known universe based on the greatest imaginings of the time (1). As humans gazed from their earthly domain into the sky, they believed the universe was exactly as they perceived it. The heavens arched gently towards the horizon encasing the surface of a flat Earth in a blue dome illuminated by day by the sun moving slowly across the arch of the sky. By night, the stars twinkled on one by, and the changing face of the moon marked the natural cycles of women and other creatures of the Earth. Above the dome, a God in man’s image orchestrated all earthly events. Beneath the surface was the realm of the dead and damned.
While some early Greek scholars explored the idea of a spherical, rotating earth in the late centuries before the Common Era, the biblical version of creation, iterated by Ptolemy around 150 C.E., stood as the prevailing perspective of the universe for over two-thousand years after the writing of Genesis. Then, in the 1500’s C.E., a Polish physician, Nicolaus Copernicus, developed the idea of a heliocentric universe in which the sun, rather than the earth, formed the stationary center of the universe.
Copernican speculations aroused mild debate for decades after his death amongst literal biblical adherents, who maintained a firm insistence on a stationary Earth as the center of the universe. When the astronomer Galileo Galilei, armed with the newly invented telescope, confirmed the Copernican hypothesis with new mathematical proofs in the early 1600’s, the controversy raged. In 1616, the Church officially condemned heliocentrism as heresy, and in 1633, at the age of 70, Galileo was forced to stand trial. Found guilty, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for the remainder of his life. In 1992, Pope John Paul II offered the Church’s first formal vindication of Galileo, more than 350 years after his unjust conviction.
“I wish we might laugh at the stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principle philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth (Galileo Galilei, 1610 (2)).”
The story of Creation in Genesis tells of an artfully crafted microcosm, micromanaged under the judgmental eye of its creator. The small fragment of universal reality we can now glimpse with our most advanced technology is exponentially more miraculous than Yahweh’s dome-encased earth with a rotating screen of heavens. Einstein and his colleagues have revealed to us an ever expanding universe with parallel brethren where time and matter are not fixed, finite entities, but open ended expressions of infinite possibilities. All of life was not created in mere days. Nature and all her living organisms are an unfolding evolutionary drama of exquisite complexity.
By insisting on a literal, immovable interpretation of the Bible, fundamentalists of all creeds are relegating their own God to mediocrity. The biblical reality as envisioned 3,000 years ago turns out to be meager and strikingly unimpressive when compared with the universe of modern man’s contemporary imaginings. The mystery, wonder and awe lie in the phenomenal truths that continue to unfold themselves to a curious species intent on grasping slices of insight about the nature of existence. Perhaps it is time to elevate our divinity to a status worthy of the miraculous universe.
1- The Harper Collins Study Bible New Revised Standard Version attributes Genesis to three main sources, J (“Jahwist”, referring to the use of “Yahweh” as God’s name) , E (“Elohist” referring to the use of “Elohim” as God’s name) and P (“Priestly” source). These original sources are believed to date from the 10th, 8th and 6th centuries B.C.E (Harper Collins Study Bible, p. 3).
2- From a letter to his colleague Johannes Kepler from the world wide web at http://www.imss.fi.it/istituto/index.html