Is the account of creation in Genesis necessarily incompatible with the theory of evolution? asks George Austin

Over the years Darwinism has been seen as a threat to religion and to the Bible by many within the churches; and as a firm, clear repudiation of the idea of God by secularists.

However, Darwin himself had a religious upbringing. His mother Susannah, the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, introduced the children to worship in the family tradition – the Unitarian Church – but later he attended Shrewsbury School and met the Church of England, into which he had in fact been baptized.

Early plans

His father had hoped that he would follow him into medicine and sent him to study at the University of Edinburgh, but he had no taste for it. He moved to Christ’s College Cambridge as a preparation to becoming an Anglican priest. While there, however, he became interested – at first almost as a hobby – in the field in which he was to make his name.

He drifted away from religion, but is recorded as declaring it to be ‘absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.’ For himself, he said that he had ‘never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of God’ and suggested that ‘agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.’

So can one read the Bible and ‘be an ardent theist and evolutionist’? Does not the first chapter of Genesis and its description of the process of creation – in just six days – surely collapse into nonsense?

A poetical record

But why should it? Why should a passage which cannot be historical (since no one could have been present to record it as such) be rejected as nonsense? Why cannot it be a poetical record of the progress of a creation by God of a world in periods of time rather than in days of 24 hours?

In fact, the story of creation in Genesis 1 shows a remarkable process of evolution that is paralleled by scientific fact. On the ‘first’ day, the earth was ‘without form and void’ – it did not exist in the Big Bang that created our universe. The story adds that it was then that there was light and darkness – a blip here for it was only when the stars and planets were formed that our star gave us light and darkness.

Then came the second stage, with a universe in turmoil as the matter swirling around the stars in the universe settled into uneasy planets – the second ‘day’.

Parallel account

There was a planetary turmoil too as the waters and dry land separated, and as we now know, with continents moving slowly (as they still do) to produce the geography we recognize today. As time passed, the dry land became fertile, the earth gradually ‘put forth vegetation’ – the third ‘day’.

That slight blip in the account repeats with the sun and moon appearing now ‘to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness’, already arranged by God on the first day and therefore not again on the fourth ‘day’.

Then on the fifth day came the beginning of the creation of living creatures – not at the same time on land and sea but in the order it really happened: ‘the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds.’ Even more surprisingly in this progress of creation and evolution, the birds are recording as appearing – and do not the feathers of birds have an evolutionary connection with the scales of fish?

Then on the sixth day, the earth brought forth ‘living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ Finally God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’. ‘Male and female he created them’ so that they might ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ So it was finished and God had a rest.

The second creation story in Genesis describes the appearance of man and woman, with the first man we know as Adam and first woman Eve, and one truth of this is that there must have been a time before human beings walked on the face of the earth. But Adam? And Eve?

Adam and Eve

Some time ago I was ‘caught’ by the family history bug, and it was suggested that my wife and I should both send samples of our DNA to the National Geographic Society genographic project.

For female descent this traces two ‘relatively stable’ genetic components, those on ‘mitochondrial’ DNA passed from mother to offspring to what they describe as a ‘coalescence point’, a genetic ancestor now shared by every person alive today. She has been dubbed ‘Eve’ and lived in Africa about 150,000 years ago.

The other relatively stable component is the Y chromosome, passed from father to son to a ‘coalescence point’, a single male ancestor – ‘Adam’ – who also lived in Africa but only about 60,000 years ago. Our DNA is traced by the project and a map is produced showing the migratory progress of ancestors, with the survival of the fittest.

Is the biblical story of Adam and Eve then just a remarkable coincidence? Or can it possibly be that those who recorded the account really were inspired by God to point to the reality? ND