In the Beginning

I’ve been listening to wacky people on the radio during all my travels, going on and on about one thing and another, and I feel moved to comment on the Evolution frenzy.

In the beginning, I was an eighth-grader, when I got my first taste of the debate between fundamentalist Christians and the rest of the world. The subject was the story of Creation, and the fundamentalist point-of-view was that it must have happened in seven days measured just as our days are. It must have happened that way because it says so in the Bible.

And I wondered why that seemed so important? Something in my young adolescent mind said no to the whole argument! Don’t try to prove it to me, I thought, but don’t try to disprove it either.

It was the first time I realized I wasn’t a Biblical literalist, and I suppose it was the first time I realized that other people were. School board fights and court cases seeking to ban the teaching of evolution, or to try and teach a so-called Biblical version of the story in science classes, has been in the news a lot this year. It seems that for some Christians, faith is really an insistence that the Bible consists of nothing but facts.

The insistence on literalism surprised me, in the beginning, because I was a girl who read a lot of books, and particularly loved mythology. When I was 10 and spent a month in bed with Hepatitis A, D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek and Roman Mythology was a constant companion. I understood that people devise stories to try and explain things they cannot see or explain but somehow believe anyway. I understood that people dream solutions to problems they cannot solve.

But in the beginning, I, too, was inclined to dismiss people of long ago as primitive in their thinking. A literalist would say they were merely recorders of words dictated by God. I would have said that they did the best they could to make sense of things that were beyond them, and that stories were their best means of doing it. Today I see that neither of us gives them the credit they are due. Now I believe they had a sense of the mythic and the metaphorical, that they knew they were being poetic and imaginative. It is modern people who get caught up in details and facts and try to reduce creation to a supernatural construction schedule, to reduce God to a more manageable size. It is modern people who fail to understand their ancestors as word-weavers praising God.

In the beginning, God—

Let’s stop right there.

In the beginning, God.

Before anything else, God.

Does it take God away from the beginning if we substitute the details of evolution for the storytelling of Genesis? I don’t believe so. The creation story of Genesis 1 *is* a story of evolution, of unfolding creation, of developing the universe from chaos and darkness to something formed and purposeful.

In his television series about life on this planet, David Attenborough illustrated the wonders of creation through simple plant life. In the beginning, ferns were underwater, later appearing on dry land. No one picked them up and moved them. They evolved and changed to improve their existence, to protect themselves from being eaten up by sea-dwelling creatures. They developed not one, but two means of reproducing, in case one failed.

If ferns evolve, why not people?

And how in any way would that diminish the glory of God?