Genesis for Biologists

I’m in the process of organizing a reading and discussion group on campus. The group will consist primarily of faculty from religion, biology and philosophy. Thus far, it looks like the inclination is to discuss the Genesis creation stories from an academic perspective, and hopefully provide the biology faculty with tools that can help them address concerns and questions that students sometimes bring to the science classroom because of their religious background.

I’m inviting readers to recommend books that offer a solid academic treatment of the Genesis creation stories, including information about and comparisons with other Ancient Near Eastern creation narratives. I’m also interested in books that discuss the theology of such stories, and perhaps other related passages in the Bible, in relation to our current scientific understanding of origins, biology, and human nature.

There are a number of books that I can think of that might fit these descriptions, but I suspect that there may be significant numbers of others, and so I’d welcome your suggestions and input. And if you have other suggestions about books that a group of academics in religion, philosophy and biology might find it interesting to read and discuss together, those are welcome too!

Thanks in advance for your input! As a token of my appreciation, here’s something for you – Richard Dawkins’ recent appearance on the Colbert Report. It is worth watching to the end, since in the final seconds they seem to have found a question that neither science nor religion can answer…

The Colbert ReportMon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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  • Sherry Peyton

    This is an excellent idea. We need more of this, since a shocking percentage of people in this country somehow thing creationism is true.

  • Erp

    No books but a useful resource is the talk.origin Index to Creationist Claims

  • Peter Milloy

    James, if you learn more on this subject than you already know, you risk confusing the biologists & philosophers. They're all very smart, but many haven't thought much about the Bible stories. Besides, you want to give them something that they can easily pass along to undergrads.So if I were you I'd stick to pointing out some features which lie on the surface of the text but often go unnoticed: a) the firmament; b) the sequence problem in ch. 1 v. ch. 2; c) the animals as potential gardeners; d) God's having to go to "Plan B" since he couldn't create another gardener from scratch; e) the woman's purpose: adding her labor to the workforce (not being a companion); f) God's moral knowledge coming from a special fruit; and g) God's determination not to share this knowledge with his gardeners.

  • stephen

    Peter, Isn't limiting Eve's role to "adding labor to the workforce" too narrow an interpretation of Genesis? Adam and Eve were sexual beings designed to have children. Love and companionship are certainly part of God's plan for them too. Or do you think they were meant to breed garden workers in a loveless fashion?

  • Jeremy Wales

    In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis by Henri Blocher is one of best books I've read on the biblical creation accounts. It was long ago that I read it and my memory fades but as I recall it opens with a helpful survey of issues inherent to the interaction between science and the bible, from the perspective of an evangelical systematic theologian (which Blocher is). It then launches into an exegesis of Gen 1-3 with discussion of both ancient and modern reception history, constantly asking whether literal or symbolic interpretation is invited by the features of the text. I believe Blocher's conclusion was that while a literal interpretation of the text is not entirely ruled out by the text itself, nevertheless nothing in the text actively invites a literal reading and it is in fact so consistently, thoroughly symbol-laden that in fact a symbolic reading seems to be strongly invited by the text itself.As Peter said, perhaps there is only so much that can be grasped by others in your forum and you should focus on particularly salient points. Blocher's book might be a good source of those points and one that the others may be able to recommend to their students, coming as it does from an evangelical perspective with which the students who are having trouble may identify.

  • Anonymous

    Or you might choose not to assume in advance what might confuse your colleagues and continue to think about useful resources. In that case, Ronald Simkins' comparative study, Creator and Creation: Nature in the Worldview of Ancient Israel is not only useful, but available online: a philosophically sophisticated theological reading of creation in Genesis, one that also engages chaos and evolutionary theory, try Catherine Keller's The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming, though it is not by any means an easy read.Eric

  • Pseudonym

    Possibly too big, too expensive and too broad in scope, but Blenkinsopp's The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible is magnificent.I've had Nahum Sarna's Understanding Genesis recommended to me. I haven't read that, though.

  • Anonymous

    @Erp:The book for this is:Mark IsaakThe Counter-Creationism HandbookUniversity of California Press, 2007ISBN-13: 978-0-520-24926-4

  • Peter Milloy

    Stephen,Forgive me for being unclear. When I spoke of the woman "adding her labor to the workforce," I meant her own work. At this point in the story (2:15-18) the Lord's only announced purpose for the man is to till and keep the garden, and then the Lord wants to make "a helper as his partner." This will not be someone to keep him company; his problem isn't that he's lonely, but that he's "alone" (18) & has to do everything himself. So when the woman comes out of the man's side, all we know about her purpose is that she is to do horticultural labor along with the man. The fact that she can produce more humans isn't mentioned until 3:15.Perhaps the author also means for us to see "love and companionship" from the git-go, but he doesn't directly say anything about that. He doesn't tell us how the man and woman feel about each other. For all its detail, the narrative remains spare: the author tells us what's necessary to his plot, and little else.

  • Steve Wiggins

    My favorites are Ellen van Wolde, Stories of the Beginning (for introductory readers) and Margaret Gray Towne, Honest to Genesis. Be sure to invite your colleague in the biology department, Michael Zimmerman! We've known each other for years and he is great to work with.

  • Bryan

    Not necessarily for biology teachers, but for anyone just beginning to think of the bible in a way not likely taught in their churches, I like the opening chapter "The Rise of Modern Biblical Scholarship" and the following chapter "The Creation of the World – and of Adam and Eve" from James Kugel's book How to Read the Bible.