Friday, February 22, 2013

Seven Glorious Days (Karl Giberson) -- Review

SEVEN GLORIOUS DAYS: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story.  By Karl W. Giberson.  Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012.  Xiii + 190 Pages.   




            For many of us who profess faith in God, we’re tired of being subjected to the dueling voices of the Richard Dawkinses and the Al Mohlers of the world.  We’re tired of having to choose between good science and our faith.  Fortunately, there are good scientists and theologians who have been able to bridge the gap.  Their voices, unfortunately, often get drowned out by the more extreme voices.  Therefore, it’s important that we elevate those voices that can bring a balanced approach to the conversation, people like Karl Giberson, whose books include the fabulous Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.

            Giberson holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Rice University and is currently a professor of science and religion at Stonehill College in Easton Massachusetts, and brings together a strong evangelical faith with a commitment to pursuit of science.   He seeks to bring the two into conversation without falling into the trap of a “God of the Gaps” mentality.  He is, along with people like John Polkinghorne, a gift to the church whose voice needs to be heard. 

In Seven Glorious Days, his latest book, Giberson asks the question – what would the seven days of creation as outlined in Genesis 1 look like if put into modern scientific terms?  In making this suggestion, Giberson acknowledges that Genesis 1 reflects, at least in part, an ancient understanding of creation.  It’s not necessarily a scientific statement, but it’s not anti-scientific either.  Although the science of Genesis 1 might be old and therefore a bit tarnished, the current modern scientific theories seem cold and impersonal.  What if the modern theories were restated in a way that leaves room for faith while at the same time being true to what we know scientifically?  Giberson’s concern is that if people of faith are forced to accept the idea that we must accept Genesis 1 as science, then it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the idea of a Creator.  In part, as an answer to this dilemma, Giberson offers to us this book, which he sees as a “literary exercise in what the Genesis story might look like if we could update it with the wisdom and latest understanding gained from modern science” (p. 4).

Update the seven days is exactly what Giberson does, and he does it masterfully.  He offers the reader, especially the reader who isn’t well trained in the sciences (like me) a thoughtful , insightful, straightforward, introduction to the science involved, while at the same time bringing into the picture a theologically sophisticated, but clear vision of God’s involvement in the process. 

The story begins with the Big Bang.  Giberson’s rendition of day one goes like this:
In the beginning God created all that is.  The Logos of creation, out of which the heavens and the earth an all things within them burst forth, was the pattern of God’s purpose from which everything would emerge and toward which everything would evolve.  (p. 7).
Giberson acknowledges that the beginnings of the universe remain a mystery.  Current theories take us near the beginning, but not to it.  But working backward, we can get a sense of how things likely began.  And of course, when God saw this, God saw that it was good!  From the Big Bang we move forward in time and place, to the point where evolution of life begins and move toward a culmination on the seventh day.

            In Genesis, when we arrive at Day Seven, God rests.  Of course, scientific theory reminds us that the creative process continues to this day, so perhaps we’ve not yet reached the seventh day.  In Giberson’s vision, the seventh day goes like this:
Then God said, “Let the members of the species Homo sapiens grow to understand the meaning, power, and significance of love; let them understand the importance of right and wrong.  And let them burn with a deep spiritual hunger to know the God that created them and the world they inhabit.  Let them begin to understand the mystery of the Logos that lies at the heart of their existence” (p. 15).
In this version, Giberson closes not with science, but with theology.  He offers a vision of our eschatological destiny – where humanity discovers the power of love and truly knows God, so that in doing so Humanity discerns what lies at the heart of our existence.  In making this point, Giberson wants to bring into the conversation the role of religion or spirituality, which has defined human identity in one form or another. 


Karl Giberson is a deeply committed evangelically inclined Christian who accepts and teaches the fact of evolution.  I use the word fact here, because while there might be debates on the process, with few exceptions there is little doubt that humanity arose from a common ancestor.  What the author brings to this conversation, especially in light of his seventh day, is a call to rethink how we perceive evolution.  Many people of faith, especially Christians, seem appalled by the typical appellation applied to the evolution that progress is the result of the “survival of the fittest.”  By this, we usually think of might makes right, with the biggest and most powerful species winning the day.  But is this really the case.  The fossil record is full of examples of gigantic and powerful species, from T-Rex to the Sabertooths, who have fallen victim to extinction.  Their ability to rip and tear didn’t protect them, and ultimately smaller, more adaptable species took their place.  Instead of fitness being defined in terms of ability to rip and shred, Giberson suggests the power of love.  Maybe fitness is defined in terms of love of others.  Perhaps it is a survival strategy – from a purely scientific perspective.  He writes:  “Love simply helped the evolutionary process along and got built in.  It’s like fresh air and clean drinking water – things go better when you have some” (p. 162).  Of course, this is rather reductionist and incomplete.  Love is a much larger and powerful entity that this would suggest, but it does help us rethink the nature of evolution.  It gives us a place to consider how God might be involved in the process, how the Spirit of God might draw us forward toward experiencing the power of love.  

My hope is that this book will get a wide reading, especially among Christians who struggle to hold together their faith and their desire to learn the lessons of science.  I don’t know if the book will convince hard-nosed materialists, but they are small in number.  It’s the larger audience that needs to be addressed, the audience that when forced to choose will choose God over science.  Giberson offers us a way of being faithful to God and learn from science.  Then, perhaps people of faith will be ready to engage those who find it difficult to entertain the idea of a Creator.  

2 comments:

Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

Bob, in regard to the fact of Evolution, Michael Dowd says, "Evolution is a fact; natural selection is a theory." I find this helpful.

Robert Cornwall said...

Thanks Steve -- that's a helpful distinction.