Religion vs. Reason

by Emily Cockran

Ever since the rise of the “evolution vs. creation” debate surrounding Genesis 1, our culture has convinced us we must choose between the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and our pastor to glean true wisdom. The “enlightened” community of both the academic and religious elites often force this dichotomy on communities of faith. The likes of Bill Nye would have us take up our test tubes and follow him rather than waste our genetically given reason on a text like Genesis.

On the other hand, some Christian leaders might encourage us to shield our minds from the evils of laboratories altogether. Postmodern presentations of history and literature often portray an inherent struggle between religion and science (Scopes Monkey Trial, anyone?). Too often cultural elites, religious leaders and academic giants judge our reasoning skills by what we believe about the origin of the universe. Essentially, whether by secular or religious influences, our capacity to think critically is judged according to how well we can swallow – or spit upon- the first verses of Genesis.

What if

 What if I told you that this dichotomy robs Christians of most of the theological riches of Genesis 1?

Don’t panic! I’m not saying you have to return your Creation Museum tickets. Rather, what I’m addressing has less to do with the so-called “religion vs. reason” dichotomy and more to do with what we can learn about God, the Trinity and our life in the Church by studying Genesis 1. Genesis 1 served as a catechetical resource and theological treasure trove before its crude dissection and dismemberment following the rise of Darwinian influence. We can say a great deal about Christ in the Old Testament and the presence of the Trinity from eternity, but I encourage you to read Luther and others more learned (and less limited by word count) than I for that sort of thing.

Genesis 1 was so well known as a catechetical resource that it historically has been called “The Hexaemeron” (‘hex’ meaning ‘six,’ reflecting the six days of creation). St. Augustine, for example, spent a good deal of his career writing to a world that had been steeped in Greco-Roman philosophy for the better part of a thousand years. One of his main texts for proposing the Scriptures belonged among great philosophical texts was none other than the Hexaemeron. Some of Augustine’s most prominent works investigate Genesis 1 in light of its place as chief chapter of the first book of the Christian corpus. Now, this doesn’t mean that we must endorse all of Augustine’s sayings, but rather that we ought to make ourselves more aware of the treasure trove of theological truths in this one chapter of Scripture. So let’s take a look at Genesis 1 as a type of catechism.

A type of catechism

We Lutherans love our catechisms. Our Small Catechism is often nestled next to our Bible on our bookshelves. Consider, though, what made Luther’s Small Catechism so easy to memorize in confirmation: There’s a rhythm to Luther’s writing. The constant repetition of “We should fear and love God so that…” in the Ten Commandments and the constant question of “What does this mean?” elsewhere better equips us to understand and commit the content to memory. So, let’s look to Genesis. There’s a sort of rhythm to the six-fold creation narrative: “God said,” “God made” and “God saw that it was good.”

What do we know about God from these verses? Let’s start with the very first: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The fact that there is a ‘beginning’ before which God existed indicates that God exists outside of time. Immanuel Kant famously noted that human beings process events in terms of space and time; therefore, we can conclude that God existing outside of time proves Him unique among other gods. Furthermore, the fact that God created indicates His omnipotence (especially in Augustine’s time, when people were accustomed to a god only fashioning out of preexisting matter, such as in Plato’s Timaeus).

Additionally, the fact that there exists a definite beginning implies a definite end; so just as God saw the world into existence, He will surely see the world until the end. In looking at Gen. 1:1, we have: (1) a God, (2) a God who creates rather than fashions, (3) the institution of time, and (4) assurance that God will see His creation through to the end. Such assertions may seem basic, but they are just the first of many assertions in Genesis, such as the teleology of creation (from telos, i.e. end or purpose), the mathematical significance of a six-fold creation process and even relationship of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s church. Cool, right?

To sum up, the riches of Genesis 1 don’t have to fall to the wayside as we discuss our beliefs with those who have signed over their souls to a television “science guy” whose degree is actually in engineering.

Emily Cockran lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., and teaches philosophy and history for Wittenberg Academy.


The Lutheran Witness — Providing Missouri Synod laypeople with stories and information that
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14 Responses to Religion vs. Reason

  1. January 25, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    This is great. Loved it. Will pass it on.

  2. January 25, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    Great article. I’m not comfortable with the whole religion vs. reason duality. Luther said that we are to use “our reason and all our senses,” Our ‘reasons’ are our thoughts. Our senses scientifically collect data by sight, sound, touch, taste, and hear. This data is, what it is; that is, the truth in it’s purest form. Science simply happens when we weigh all the evidence collected by external (listed above), and internal senses (heart, mind, and soul as Jesus taught). Historically, theology was taught as the “Queen of all the Sciences,” in the collegium established by the Catholic Church dating back to the first and second centuries. Therefore, our senses, reason, thoughts, words, and deeds can not but help serve our theological understandings; that is the scriptures and confessions, and ultimately, God.

  3. Mike Cannatelli January 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm #

    God created both Physical Laws of Science and the Scriptures. So Science can’t be opposed to the Bible since God created both.

    As Galileo said, paraphrasing; Scripture is always correct and our interpreting of God’s Word might change as we grow and learn [the earth goes around the sun, not the other way]. Since the sun and moon weren’t created until the 4th “day”, I truly do not believe God meant literally six twenty four hour days of creation. Whether God took 1 billion year days to do creation doesn’t change the fact that God did it. He can do it any way HE chooses, he’s God. Either way, it doesn’t weaken my faith in the Risen Christ.

    • January 26, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

      I agree with you until the denial of six day creation. Is it possible to believe the maker of heaven and earth can’t make heaven and earth at his own time? Before the creation of the heaven and the earth we know that there was nothing. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. So…the earth began revolving and rotating around the sun in 7/24 hour days. Therefore, since he created the earth and sun to move in concert with us and created time through said motion, I can correctly conclude that the beginning discussed in Genesis was in seven, literally, seven 24 hour days. How is this possible? IDK bc I’m not God, but the crown of his beautfiul creation which was, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

      • Todd Voge February 3, 2017 at 10:40 am #

        Yes, the 7/24 is how we look at it now. But it said he created the earth and the sun. He gave no indication as to how many times the earth spun or the earth rotated around the sun during the period of creation. What if he didn’t start the rotation of the earth until later? There are a lot of things unanswered in Genesis. So I agree with Mike in that God, who is outside of time itself, could have used billions of OUR days/months/years to do the creation. That would also explain the different periods we have seen through science and why dinosaurs have been found. I find it very hard to believe that God would have put bones in the ground just for us to find and question his existence.

      • February 3, 2017 at 10:54 am #

        You state that you can “correctly conclude” that creation was seven, 24 hour days. Yet all of the physical proof around us shows that the earth is much older. I am an Old Earth Creationist (OEC). I know that you can’t know for sure that the 7 days/ 24 hours theory is correct. Do some research on the word YOM, translated to DAY throughout the Bible. As Christians we should be more open to other creation theories that are more in line with science, such as OEC. I’ve found that complete denial of an old earth drives people away from Christianity.

      • Steve February 4, 2017 at 9:26 am #

        I agree with Carl that when God created the sun and moon, he immediately started the rotation of the earth around the sun, and the rotation of the moon around earth. Genesis says that God made the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night making one day. God’s power could accomplish this without millions of years. The explosion of Mount St. Helen has shown that the fossilization process can take place in a much shorter period of time than thought. Faith relies on us to trust in God’s Word and not the rules of men.

  4. Jeanne February 1, 2017 at 8:58 am #

    I shouldn’t be forced to choose between religion and science. I want both!

  5. Samuel Pool February 3, 2017 at 7:05 pm #

    A certain kind of science only seems to conflict with the revealed Word. This kind of scence makes projections into the past with an assumption that there have been no influences other than those it can measure now. This science only values data that can be re-created. In other words the science, if it is to be honest, actually says: if there is no God, our current understanding of our repeatable observations is that the world is billions of years old.
    This kind of science should only be understood with the preface of: if there is no God,,,,,

  6. Kirk Peters February 4, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    At the close of each day of creation the scriptures tell us, “and there was evening and morning, the 1rst day’, or “there was evening and morning the 2nd day”; pretty plain language about a day as 24 hours, the same as today. Also, the sun and moon are created on day for to mark the seasons and days and years. The days were already created, and light and dark separated on the first day. The sun and the moon mark this time period and they mark a 24 hour day. If you then believe that the days were longer than 24 hours God would have changed it on the 4th day. Scripture makes no such statement. It seems most reasonable to believe that a day has always been 24 hours. If not then God would have changed the whole arrangement of the Cosmos without making mention of it.
    If we say we believe that God could make all creation in Six 24 hour days, and he says that he created in days marked by evening and morning, it seems to me most reasonable to take him at his Word.
    The “evidence around us” does not point us to “days” that are millions of years long, it points to fully developed species suddenly appearing. True science is the study of God’s creation through observation and hypothesis, and then working to disprove that hypothesis. It is not good science to formulate a hypothesis, then work to observe that thing in nature and try to prove it. To God be the glory.

  7. Kirk Peters February 4, 2017 at 1:58 pm #

    Genesis records that there was “evening and morning” the first day. According to reason that would indicate that God create according to the same day we experience today. The Scriptures were written as a revelation of God’s word to human beings. Yes, the sun and the moon were created on the 4th day, to “mark the seasons, the days and the years”; however, that does not mean that God created the day according to the sun, but the sun to mark the day that he had created. The sun and moon were created to fit God’s day, which he also created with light and day, evening and morning. Reason would tell us that God if God could create in six days, or one day, by his Word, and he says that is what he did, we could assume that each day of creation was truly framed my evening and morning-one day.
    Science is God’s revelation about his Creation through observations of the natural world.
    Modern science was advanced by Universities that were established with Theology as their central study. The belief that God created and established the “natural laws” to order it led scientists to investigate through experimentation and observation. If the world is subject to random events, how would one ever observe something and think that it might occur again and again. However, if the natural laws are subject to an orderly God, then results are repeatable.
    I wonder what “periods we have seen in science” and how it explains “dinosaurs”. Dinosaurs fit into a literal view of creation. What fossils tell us is that these creatures lived and died. Fossils also tell us that there was a lot of water that covered the earth and buried them quickly by water carried sediments. The revelation in Genesis 6-8 confirm this in the Word. There are lots of problems with the “old Earth” theory.
    God bless, and to him be the glory.

  8. Tim February 4, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

    No one can “correctly conclude that the beginning discussed in Genesis was in seven, literally, seven 24 hour days.” Why? Because you’re forgetting 2 Peter 3:8 “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Bottom line is that is doesn’t matter how long it took for God to create our world and the other planets. Too many people get caught up in this and other minor issues. If you really want to know how long it took, you can ask Him when you get there. The essence of the Bible is one verse, John 3:16. The rest is an interesting history of the Israelites, the life of Jesus and a guide for living.

    • Marcia February 10, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

      Tim, you have given the most common sense answer yet.

  9. Richard Giro February 8, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

    My God truly is AWESOME. I simply believe that He created instantly, with time already built in. Yes He could have done it seed by seed if He so chose. I am more impressed by the words of a song, “Magnificent, Holy Father, I stand in awe of all I see. Of all the things you have created, still you chose to think of me.”

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