Once we recognize that the Genesis cosmology reflects what we have called, without prejudice, a “naïve” observational perspective, we are in a position to compare that cosmology with others that have been articulated throughout the centuries. To begin with, we may instructively contrast it with the cosmology that Aristotle articulated in the fourth century B.C. We must acknowledge that the Aristotelian cosmology displays a level of complexity significantly beyond that of Genesis, in that it recognizes, for example, the existence of planets that are distinct from stars. Moreover, the Aristotelian cosmology correctly recognizes that there are no “waters above” the sky and that the sun, moon, and stars don’t move below the sky.
Nevertheless, a modern observer making even a casual inspection of the Aristotelian cosmology will immediately spot one of its gravest flaws – its geocentric view of the universe. Nicolaus Copernicus improved on both the biblical and the Aristotelian cosmologies in the sixteenth century A.D. by correctly recognizing that the sun occupies the center of our solar system. However, there were also flaws in the Copernican system, such as the assumption (really made on theological grounds) that the planetary orbits had to be circular. This was corrected by Johannes Kepler, who deduced that planetary orbits were elliptical. Further breakthrough insights into cosmology were achieved by Newton in the seventeenth century and Einstein in the twentieth, with countless other scientists filling in important pieces along the way.
The history of cosmology has thus seen paradigms continually refined and even overthrown at intervals, as observation, measurement and analysis have steadily increased in accuracy. Yesterday’s cosmology is not today’s, nor is today’s likely to be tomorrow’s. Nevertheless, significantly, with all of the refinements that have been introduced and all of the overthrows that have occurred, scientists have never returned to an older cosmology when flaws have been demonstrated in an existing one. Rather, newly synthesized and conceived models have always proven to explain the data in more satisfying ways.
So here is the question: As a scientist, even if you are also a believing Christian, which cosmology would you prefer to use as a springboard for your quest to understand the origin and nature of the universe and the origin and diversity of life on this planet? The naïve observational cosmology of Genesis, with its solid sky, “waters above,” pushed-back seas and light without the sun? The geocentric Aristotelian cosmology? That of Copernicus, with its perfectly circular planetary orbits? Some other older cosmology? Or our present understanding of the nature and structure of the Universe, which, while admittedly still subject to refinement, nevertheless incorporates all of the objective observations and measurements made over the centuries into a reasonable working model?
We doubt that any of our readers would want to begin their scientific investigations in any field with the premise that the earth is flat and the sky is a solid dome above it. As Christians, we are not obligated to try to put new wine into old wineskins. There is nothing to be gained by trying to force all of the information that is now available to us about the nature of the universe into a world view that must by now be recognized as phenomenological (i.e. observational).
Believing Christians who are working in other scientific fields do not feel that they have to begin with the Bible’s descriptions of their subject matter and take those as the foundation of their work. In meteorology, mineralogy, medicine, anatomy, and countless other fields, we applaud the work of those who diligently pursue their research and synthesize their findings into a reasonable model. We do not expect them to derive their conclusions from a reading of the Bible. So why should there be a double standard for fields such as geology, paleontology and cosmology? (There shouldn’t!)
One way to summarize our argument is this: If you feel that you must believe in a young earth on the basis of a commitment to a literal reading of Genesis, you must also believe in a flat earth on that same basis. But if, as is no doubt the case, you do not feel that you have to believe in a flat earth, even though it has now been shown that this is what Genesis literally presents, then you may already have articulated for yourself the reasons why you don’t need to believe in a young earth, either. This certainly does not have to be your starting point. You are free to let the data speak for itself.
“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; it is the glory of kings to search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2). King Solomon, who wrote these words, was noted for his natural-scientific investigations: “He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish” (1 Kings 4:33). In these days when many of us enjoy the kind of leisure for cultural, artistic and scientific pursuits that only kings formerly enjoyed, we may paraphrase Solomon’s words in this way: “God has hidden countless fascinating and wonderful things in his creation, and he wants us to delight in discovering them.” When we do, we bring God pleasure by fulfilling his purposes. So all those who are called to scientific enterprise should pursue that calling without fear or doubt, but rather with joy and enthusiasm. There is no script that you need to follow, no predetermined conclusion that your results need to square with. If there were, God would not really have “hidden” these treasures for us to find.
They’re out there—go get them!