Ancient Near Eastern Concepts of Creation

Is the Genesis account only an ancient myth, no better than tales originating In other cultures over the millennia? Many people obviously think so. Notice what Richard Dawkins, professor of zoology at Oxford University and professed atheist, has to say about the biblical account:

"Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myth, and the Genesis story Is just the one that happened to have been adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants" (Richard Dawklns, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, 1986, p. 316).

But Is Professor Dawkins' assumption true? Is the Genesis record a fairy tale little different from those of other ancient cultures?

Some 5,000 years ago, the Sumerians of Mesopotamia left accounts of their creation myths Inscribed on cuneiform tablets. The Sumerians conceived of the earth as flat and the sky as a canopy of clouds and stars. They believed earth and sky were created by two gods: An, the male sky god, and Ki, the female earth god.

These two gave birth to a multitude of other gods, each with a particular power and responsibility over some aspect of the created realm

The Babylonians recorded their version of the earth's creation on this ancient clay tablet, now preserved in the British Museum. It records a celebration banquet to honor Marduk's selection as champion of the gods after he defeated the goddess Tiamat, from whose body he made the sky and earth.

,(a|jch as lightning, trees, mountains, illnes^-etc*. They lived In a kingly court in heaven, with An, the supreme god, surrounded by four subordinate creator gods. Below them were a council of seven gods and, finally, the 50 remaining minor gods.

All physical occurrences could be interpreted by the priests as the result of the particular mood or whim of one of these gods.

They could be placated by offerings and sacrifices. Although these deities were considered Immortal, their supposed conduct was anything but divine. They were depicted as often fighting among themselves, full of petty envies and lusts and subject to hunger and even death.

A few centuries later the Babylonians conquered the Sumerians and modified these myths to exalt their own civilization. Now It was the Babylonian god Mar-duk who was In charge; he formed the heavens and earth by slaying a sea monster goddess, Tiamat. According to the Babylonian creation account:

"The god Apsu and the goddess Tiamat made other gods. Later Apsu became distressed with these gods and tried to kill them, but instead he was killed by the god Ea. Tiamat sought revenge and tried to kill Ea, but instead she was killed by Ea's son Marduk. Marduk split her body In half, and from one half he made the sky and from-me other half he made the earth. T in Marduk, with Ea's aid, made manklndfrom the blood of another god, Klngu" {Li: How Did It Get Were? 1985, p. 35).

Does this kind of bizarre tale bear any resemblance to the biblical account of creation? Not at all. The first civilizations of the Fertile Crescent had similar creation accounts, but the only one free of outrageous myth and with a moral and perfect God Is the biblical version.

In contrast to the crude polytheistic struggles found In such ancient myths, the Genesis account Is smooth, systematic, rational and—yes—scientific.

Notice astrophysicist Hugh Ross' reaction on first reading the biblical account of creation: "The [Bible's] distinctives struck me Immediately. It was simple, direct, and specific. I was amazed with the quantity of historical and scientific references and with the detail In them.

"It took me a whole evening just to Investigate the first chapter. Instead of another bizarre creation myth, here was a journal-like record of the earth's Initial conditions—correctly described from the standpoint of astrophysics and geophysics—followed by a summary of the sequence of changes through which Earth came to be Inhabited by living things and ultimately by humans.

"The account was simple, elegant, and scientifically accurate. From what I understood to be the stated viewpoint of an observer on Earth's surface, both the order and the description of creation events perfectly matched the established record of nature. I was amazed" (The Creator and the Cosmos, 1993, p. 15).

Consider an admission from The Columbia History of the World: "Indeed, our best current knowledge, lacking the poetic magic of scripture, seems In a way less believable than the account In the Bible" (John Garraty and Peter Gay, editors, 1972, p. 3).

It Is natural to conclude, as nations gradually distanced themselves from the true Creator God and sank Into Immorality and polythe-

m that their understanding of the brSatlon became rarrupted and eventually was used to prop up their political, social, philosophical and religious outlooks.

Vernon Blackmore and Andrew Page write: "Today the difference between Genesis and the

Unlike other ancient creation stories, the biblical account of creation is systematic, rational and scientific.

Babylonian account Is evident. The first speaks of one God creating the world and mankind by his own command; the other describes chaos and war among many gods, after which one god, Marduk, fashions humanity from clay and blood. The spiritual depth and dignity of Genesis far surpasses the polytheistic Ideas of Babylon. Yet until the complete story had been reconstructed, Incautious scholars talked of the Bible account being a copy of that from Babylonia. Certainly, they argued, Genesis should be consigned to the category of legend, and Its writing was dated long after Moses to the time Israel was held captive In Babylon.

"Much of nineteenth-century liberalism has now been shown as excessive. The Old Testament Is not a poor reflection of more ancient Babylonian or Canaanlte tales. There are more differences than similarities between the texts. The opening chapters of Genesis stand unique. Nevertheless, many scholars still use the category of myth In relation to some of the biblical material" (Evolution: The Great Debate, 1989, p. 130).

Although the Greeks thought the god Atlas held up first the heavens and later the earth, and the Hindus believed the earth rested atop four gigantic elephants, the Bible long revealed the true explanation. We read in Job 26:7 an astonishingly modern scientific concept, that God "hangs the earth on nothing." Science has demonstrated that this "nothing" is the invisible force of gravity that holds the planet in its orbit.

Centuries passed before Nicolaus Copernicus in the 1500s calculated that the earth was not the center of the universe. However, he was cautious about challenging the Roman church on this belief.

In the 1600s, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei observed through a telescope the moons orbiting Jupiter—clear evidence against the idea that the heavenly bodies all revolve around the earth. After further observation of the planets, he came to agree with Copernicus' view that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. Catholic authorities considered this idea heretical, and Galileo was threatened with death if he did not recant. Finally he did, although legend has it that, as he left the presence of the pope, he muttered under his breath regarding the earth, "And yet it moves."

"When the Roman church attacked Copernicus and Galileo," says Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, "it was not because their teaching actually contained anything contrary to the Bible. The church authorities thought it did, but that was because Aristotelian elements had become part of church orthodoxy, and Galileo's notions clearly conflicted with them. In fact, Galileo defended the compatibility of Copernicus and the Bible, and this was one of the factors which brought about his trial" (How Should We Then Live? 1976, p. 131).

Ironically, these first battles between scientists and the Bible pitted scientists against biblical misinterpretations, not against what the Bible actually says.

The Bible and scientific advancement

Several centuries later, a better biblical understanding actually furthered scientific advancements and achievements. The English scholar Robert Merton maintains that the values promoted by Puritanism in 17th-century England encouraged scientific endeavors. A Christian was to glorify God and serve Him through participating in activities of practical value to his community. He wasn't to withdraw into the contemplative life of monasteries and convents.

Christians were to choose a vocation that best made use of their talents. Reason and education were praised in the context of educating people with practical knowledge, not the highly literary classics of pagan antiquity, that they might better do their life's work. Puritanism also encouraged literacy, because each believer had to be able to read the Bible for himself and not depend on what others said it meant.

Historians note that the invention of the printing press and subsequent broader distribution of the Bible in the 1500s played a large role in the emergence of modern science. "The rise of modern science," says Francis Schaeffer, "did not conflict with what the Bible teaches; indeed, at a crucial point the Scientific Revolution rested upon what the Bible teaches.

"Both Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian world view ... As far as I know, neither of the two men were Christians . . . Because the early scientists believed that the world was created by a reasonable God, they were not surprised to discover that people could find out something true about nature and the universe on the basis of reason" (pp. 132-133).

As this more biblically based science expanded, ecclesiastical leaders had to admit that some long-held positions were wrong. With the esteemed position that the earth was at the center of the universe proven false, the church lost both prestige and credibility to emerging science. As time went on, scientific study grew increasingly apart from the dominant religion, which was mired in its Greek and medieval thought.

Evolution's early roots

Although evolution wasn't popularized until 1859 with the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, the roots of the idea go much further back in history.

"The early Greek philosophers," explains British physicist Alan Hayward, "were probably the first thinkers to toy with the notion of evolution. Along with many other ideas from ancient Greece it reappeared in western Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries . . . But one great difficulty stood in the way. Nobody . . . could explain convincingly how evolution could have taken place. Each species seemed to be fixed. There seemed no way in which one species could give rise to another . . .

"Darwin changed all that with his theory that the way evolution worked was by 'natural selection.' He proposed that small variations

16 Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

16 Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?

in each generation—the kind of natural variations that enable breeders to produce new varieties of dogs and cows and apples and roses— would eventually add up to very big differences, and thus, over hundreds of millions of years, could account for every species on earth" (Creation and Evolution: Rethinking the Evidence From Science and the Bible, 1985, pp. 4-5).

Thus, in the late 19th century, scientists and educators were sidetracked from discovering the truth about the origin and meaning of life when they adopted Darwin's reasoning. Their widespread acceptance of an alternative explanation for the existence and diversity of life on earth that discounted the account in Genesis soon led to a general distrust of the Bible. This massive shift of thought has had far-reaching consequences. "Darwinism," says Dr. Hayward, "begins to look more like a huge maze without an exit, where the world has wandered aimlessly for a century and a half' (p. 58).

Meanwhile the churches, having centuries earlier incorporated unscientific, unbiblical Greek philosophical concepts into their views, could not adequately explain and defend aspects of their teachings. They, too, were ultimately sidetracked by their mixing of pagan philosophy with the Bible. Both science and religion built their explanations on wrong foundations.

Acceptance of evolution

Some of the reasons for the acceptance of Darwin's theory involved conditions of the time. The 19th century was an era of social and religious unrest. Science was riding a crest of popularity. Impressive discoveries and inventions appeared constantly. This climate was conducive to people embracing revolutionary concepts.

Furthermore, Darwin himself had an impeccable reputation as a dedicated naturalist. And though his theory contained many obvious weaknesses, these were hidden by the length and tediousness of his book. (He described his book as "one long argument.")

At the same time, the Roman church was being affected by its own cumulative mistakes about science as well as the critics' onslaughts against its teachings and the Bible. The church itself began to accept supposedly scientific explanations over divine ones. A bias against the supernatural slowly crept in.

The momentum grew in the 20th century until many Protestants and Catholics turned to theistic evolution. This is the belief that God occasionally intervenes in a largely evolutionary process through such steps as creating the first cell and then permitting the whole process of evolution to take place or by simply waiting for the first man to appear from the gradual chain of life and then providing him with a soul.

"Darwinian evolution to them," says Dr. Hayward, "is merely the method by which God, keeping discreetly in the background, created every living thing . . . The majority of theistic evolutionists have a somewhat liberal view of the Bible, and often regard the early chapters of Genesis as a collection of Hebrew myths" (p. 8).

Darwinism and morality

The implications for the trustworthiness of the Bible are enormous. Is it the inspired and infallible Word of God, or are parts of it merely well-intentioned myths? Are sections of it simply inaccurate and unreliable? Were Jesus Christ and the apostles wrong when they affirmed

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