Review of Seven Glorious Days, by Karl Giberson

Review of Seven Glorious Days, by Karl Giberson September 17, 2012

There are many books about the early chapters of Genesis, and many books introducing readers to the scientific understanding of the cosmos and our place in it. But there are few which actually try to combine the two aims into one. Karl Giberson’s book, Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Story, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the Patheos Book Club discussion of this book.

The book opens with a brief presentation of major stages in the history of the cosmos, broken up into seven epochs or days. After that, the introduction provides a brief overview of the epochs in Giberson’s own life exploring the intersection of religion and science – his upbringing in a fairly literalistic form of Christianity, his adoption of young-earth creationism, his discovery while studying at a Christian university that what science has to say is in fact right, and much else, leading ultimately to a career dedicated to teaching science to Christian college students. It was this that led him to reflect on what it might mean to “update” the Genesis account of creation. On the one hand, reflecting ancient cosmological ideas and language, Genesis seems “tarnished” to those who read it today. Yet the portrait offered by science can seem to have nothing to say specifically to people of faith. And so in this book, Giberson tries to offer an overview of how science understands our history and origins, told in a manner that mediates that story specifically to people of Christian faith.

Giberson emphasizes a few points to avoid misunderstandings, which I think I should therefore be sure to mention here in this review. Giberson is not trying to rewrite Genesis with the aim of then discarding that text in favor of what he has produced. His point in doing this is that “The more we tie God’s creative work to the ancient worldview in Genesis, the less likely people are to take the idea of a creator God seriously” (p.4). And so Giberson is best viewed as doing what the author of Genesis did long ago – viewing the current understanding of the nature of and processes at work in the cosmos as the handiwork of God. Giberson also emphasizes that he is not engaging in the “day-age” approach that attempts to shoehorn modern science into Genesis. His division of his account into seven epochs is stylistic – as, one could argue, is the account in Genesis – and does not reflect something inherent in the scientific understanding of the history of the universe (pp.5-6).

Giberson proceeds to give yet another overview of the seven epochs the rest of the book will discuss in detail, before turning to each of them in separate chapters.

The story of the cosmos, like the story in Genesis, begins at a somewhat arbitrary “beginning” – one that clearly presupposes order and a framework which already existed prior to that point. The story of the cosmos, Giberson emphasizes early on, is a breathtakingly beautiful one – but it is also a story that scientists sometimes fail to tell as well as poets can. Giberson uses many analogies, such as comparing the four fundamental forces to “four horsemen of creation” or talking about fundamental building blocks of matter as like “LEGOs.”

Giberson also uses Biblical metaphors, some of which work wonderfully – and others of which I am less sure about (see e.g. p.71).

Since there are many introductions to the scientific view of human beings and of our cosmic context, an appropriate question to ask is what, if anything, Giberson’s treatment of the subject offers that others do not. At moments in the book, one might indeed wonder whether this “updating” of Genesis is not in fact merely yet another telling of science’s story. But at key moments, the distinctive focus becomes clear – and it is arguable that in those moments when there is no distinctively Biblical or religious slant, there is little that a religious believer could or ought to say about that topic other than what science has to offer.

The distinctive angle on the subject matter has to do with significance – and once again it might be said that where Genesis differs from other ancient creation stories from the Ancient Near East is not about material substances or cosmic processes but significance as well. And so this being what sets Giberson’s telling of the scientific story apart seems deeply appropriate.

On pp.78-79, Giberson explicitly raises the issue, which he then returns to again and again through the remainder of the book: Does science teach that we are insignificant or significant? He helpfully discusses scientists’ depiction of our world as but a speck, a “pale blue dot” in a vast universe. But he argues (pp.109-111) that size is only one way of assessing significance, and almost certainly not the most important. If we view our place in the cosmos in other terms, such as information and/or cognition, the picture changes. Giberson explores this point by verbally describing what the picture would look like if information – things like language, science, math, and other human thoughts and communications, which can often exist in quite small spaces – were represented by corresponding size. “If all this information took up space, then the earth would be bigger than the sun. It would be larger than the entire solar system. It would be larger than our galaxy” (pp.110-111). And so Giberson argues that our significance should not be evaluated in terms of our size in a vast cosmos. If we are the only world with life, and Earth the only place where sentient beings ponder deep mysteries, then we are perhaps the most significant things in the cosmos, the sole instance of the universe coming to reflect on its own existence.

Giberson responds  not only to those who try to make arguments against our significance based on science, but also to those who argue against science based on dubious claims and reasoning. He focuses particular attention on Ken Ham’s question (quoted on p.116) as to why the Creator would use a process that involves “animals…ripping each other up over millions of years.” Giberson responds by noting that this caricature of the history of life is extremely dubious. If we think of two human beings, one of whom has two children and the other none, there is an evolutionary success by one and failure by the other – but no ripping of one another apart. The argument that violence typifies life on our planet is as problematic as the argument that it typifies human existence in the present. We may highlight such acts in reporting the news, but the truth is that we go about our daily lives without experiencing it as often as such reports might lead one to expect. Giberson then goes on to provide illustrations of cooperation and even kindness in the natural world.

The final section of the book focuses on love, as representing something that has emerged in the natural order, and which represents an area in which the natural sciences, once skeptical that kissing and touching could do anything but transmit germs in a dangerous manner, came around to what bearers of religious insights had emphasized all along – love and affection are crucially important, and not optional extras, when it comes to human existence.

If at times there have seemed to be threads of purposeless acts of “Nature” and threads of purposefulness in Giberson’s description of the cosmos and the history of life on our planet, in the end, they are woven together. He talks about divine action, and while emphasizing that there is no place for discussion of divine purpose in a science textbook, that does not mean that the universe as we know it is closed to that possibility, nor that we, beholding a cosmos that has brought us into existence, cannot reasonably believe that through the processes that sciences study and help us to understand, activity of a Creator was finding expression. Giberson concludes on the last few pages with thoughts from a specifically Christian perspective. But throughout most of the book, what is being said could be appreciated by most religious believers, as indeed much of it could be appreciated by anyone interested in science.

I believe that Karl Giberson’s book, taken as a whole, accomplishes what he set out to. It offers a telling of science’s story which views that story much as the author of Genesis viewed the cosmos as understood in his time: as an expression of the will of a Creator. While young-earth creationists actually undermine acceptance of such a belief by focusing the attention of people on the ancient understanding of the natural world reflected in Genesis, and others as a result find it easy to dismiss both together, Giberson offers an updating of the science with a reiteration of the central point of Genesis. I can only hope that increasing numbers of Christians will turn to Giberson’s book and come to share his appreciation for the story that science has revealed. If so, perhaps some of the harm caused to the Christian faith, and the perception of it by others, brought about by people like Ken Ham and other young-earth creationists, can at last be undone. I give this book an enthusiastic recommendation.

"The fossil fuel industry is not, thankfully, in charge of all research. That is not ..."

Not Liberal, Just Literate
"Airlines have been testing and using biodiesel to power jet planes for several years. I ..."

Not Liberal, Just Literate
"Note that the main ad agency for the tobacco companies is the same one that ..."

Not Liberal, Just Literate
"The people who wrote 1 Kings know they are lying. They are terrorists who want ..."

Textual Criticism and What Jesus Learned ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • “If all this information took up space, then the earth would be bigger than the sun. It would be larger than the entire solar system. It would be larger than our galaxy”

    That’s making a large assumption. The Sun is a relatively young star. It is reasonable to think that there are other intelligent beings out there, on some of the hundreds of millions of planets that almost certainly exist in our galaxy, who have been around far longer than we. Our store of information may be small compared to that in the galaxy as a whole.

    • I understood him to mean a comparison between the Earth’s information and the rest of the galaxy if not inhabited.

      • True, but why make that comparison? I think in order to make plausible that humanity, despite its apparent insignificance, is of central importance to God. Which becomes less plausible if there are very many other intelligent species.

        And lets’ not forget the billions of other galaxies 🙂

        • His point is to try to represent information, cognition, life, and other such things in terms of size, precisely to indicate that those may have greater significance than size, and if they were represented by size then it might well be that our world would be the “biggest” thing around.

          I may not have conveyed his analogy as clearly as I should have, perhaps, but I wonder whether you find the point itself – that we may have here something that is more significant than the whole rest of the galaxy combined, if the things mentioned earlier turn out to be found here and not elsewhere. And if they are found elsewhere, on other worlds, those worlds would likewise share this greater significance than the rocky barren places that lack life and thought and communication.

          • I think maybe I should read the book.

          • I think that Karl would be pleased if that were the outcome of our discussion! 🙂

  • “Giberson then goes on to provide illustrations of cooperation and even kindness in the natural world.”
    No doubt he does. It’s true that natural selection need not involve suffering. But very often it does. The typical fate of a wild animal is either to be torn apart by predators or to die of starvation. Ken Ham is right to point out that a God who chooses millions of years of such suffering, when he could instead create the desired result instantly, cannot be seen as merciful.

    • Yes, but the assumption that the desired result could be created instantly, by making two individuals pre-programmed with the things that humans would from then on have to learn through upbringing, might not in fact have accomplished that desired result. So that argument makes assumptions about what God was seeking to accomplish – and of course, about the kind of God that is being spoken of.

      Be that as it may, the entire objection assumes that death is unnatural. But even in Genesis 2-3, death is natural, and while an “antidote” is said to exist, and humanity is said to lose access to it, it remains the case that death is natural. Here too, of course, there is more to be said about the matter – I am just talking, as I assume you are, about the internal logic or lack thereof in Ken Ham’s views, and so am discussing in terms of his assumptions and authorities.

      • All right, “instantly” may not be possible. But they could be created as newborn babies and reared by angels. My point is that it can be done without hundreds of millions of years of animal suffering.

        “Be that as it may, the entire objection assumes that death is unnatural.” No, it assumes that unnecessary suffering is an evil.

        Death is necessary for a stable ecosystem, but suffering on that scale surely is not .
        “So that argument makes assumptions about what God was seeking to accomplish – and of course, about the kind of God that is being spoken of. ”
        The Bible appears to imply that humanity was the desired end result of creating the Earth (at least, we are meant to rule over it), and that God is good. If both are false we have a very different religion.

        • Reared by angels wouldn’t skew things? 🙂

          I think that Giberson’s point about suffering is a valid one. He imagines an alien anthropologist coming down to a shopping mall and observing human life. Would the word that most comes to mind be suffering? I don’t think that any life, of any animal including humans, is devoid of suffering, but I am not sure that it is so characterized by suffering that most of us think it would have been better not to have existed. And if that thought ever grabs hold of us, we watch It’s A Wonderful Life and are quickly disabused of it. 🙂

          But at the heart of it, your point seems to assume that the suffering that is part of the evolutionary process – and the cooperation and the love that also emerge from it – could simply have been bypassed while achieving the same result. I just don’t know that we know that to be the case.

  • Dr. David Tee

    “His point in doing this is that “The more we tie God’s creative work to the ancient worldview in Genesis, the less likely people are to take the idea of a creator God seriously” (p.4)”
    herein lies one of the big problems with those who choose science over God’s word and still try to call themselves christian. They are afraid to describe God as He is and afraid to declare what God did as God declared it.
    if you notice thorughout the Bible, God has no such fear and NO such worry. He is who He is and people get freedom to choose Him or they can freely reject Him BUT God does not change what He said He did, He does not change Himself in hopes of winning souls.
    God declared “I created it al in 6 days, now the ball is in your court to accept or reject that event.” Notice God doesn’t alter one thing about Himself, nor did Jesus. Jesus ‘In the beginning GOD CREATED….”
    Jesus did not alter the creation event to ‘win souls’ neither should those who say they believe in Him.We believers preach the truth and do not alter one word of the Bible and the truth is–God created in 6 24 hour days and evolution is a lie.
    Sadly, too many people want to alter God, to lie thinking the ends justify the means. We do not use sin to combat sin.

    • You wrote:
      God declared “I created it al in 6 days, now the ball is in your court to accept or reject that event.”

      Show me where God said those exact words, or their Hebrew or Greek equivalent. If not, you are making things up and attributing them to God, while insisting that ancient writings by human beings are the very words of God.

      Are you out of your mind? You are obviously a stubborn heretic, but I think there is more than that to your bizarre comments and behavior…

      • Dr. David Tee

        Your problem is that you can’t produce what you demand of others for your side of the issue. No where in the Bible does God specifically state–“I used evolutionary means” or “I used a process”

        But to give you a passage of scripture–genesis 1.

        I am not making them up nor would I put words n God’s mouth. Just because you do that doesn’t mean everyone else does.

        • I have had enough of your dishonesty and your deceptions and your persistent defiance of both God and logic. Acknowledge that you made up words and attributed them to God, or I think perhaps the time has come to ban you, if you are unwilling to have the basic human decency to be honest, to say nothing of behaving like a Christian, which I think is a higher standard still.

          • Dan Ortiz

            James, thanks for standing up to cowardice …

    • aar9n

      Herein lies the problem that doctor tee chooses his interelretation of the bible over gods infallible prophet. Don’t you know that in these latter days god has restored his church on earth through his chosen prophet Joseph smith and his successors? Doctor tee is afraid to accept the truth of the book of Mormon, which is gods word, and doing so he spits in heavenly fathers face.
      The book of mormon is gods holy word, when will you repent and turn to the one true church of Jesus Christ?

  • Susan Burns

    Now that we understand how life evolved on earth we can say definitively that God has no control. If God has no control then control is not a Kingdom Principle. Heirarchial authority as a control device is just another earthly construct that has been attributed to God but will be left behind when we enter the heavenly realm. Now we know MORE about God because of science – not less.

    • Dr. David Tee

      you are looking for excuses to disobey God.

  • Dr. David Tee

    The question is: The author reviewed above is a mere fallible human not present at creation why would you take his words over God’s found in Genesis one?

    • He has studied God’s handiwork, and thus knows things which the author of Genesis 1, an ancient human being, did not. Please stop your idolatry!

  • Philip Bruce Heywood

    “Dr. David Tee • The question is: The author reviewed above is a mere fallible human not present at creation why would you take his words over God’s found in Genesis one?

    James F. McGrath−He has studied God’s handiwork, and thus knows things which the author of Genesis 1, an ancient human being, did not. Please stop your idolatry!”
    Really?Is a bypasser such as myself supposed to laugh or cry?Dr. TEE is of course correct and Professor McGrath is of course correct and somewhat annoyed. What you should have said and I will say it for you and a five year old could say it for you, Prof. Mc G., is that the Holy Spirit who inspired the author of GENESIS knows all things, but the human being(s) whom he inspired are fallible human beings like us, and we only know as much as God reveals to us. Quantum Physics, for instance, although GENESIS is full of it, would not have been much use to tribal Israel, or Job, or whoever handed us the text. Which if Dr. TEE had found the time to have said, would negate the need for silly exchanges.
    Well I don’t know if you are officially a prof. McG. but good luck to you, you deserve to be. Try researching your topic here. Type in, on GOOGLE, “Questions Arising, Species Origin” When you have spent the necessary twenty minutes reading the latest science on species origins, you might type in, “Common Donor Moon Capture”. When you have spent the requisite hour finding the latest on solar system origins, you could then follow your nose (with the assistance of GOOGLE) and bone up on the universe, climate, magnetic field, and the total absurdity of blind chance Evolution or Darwinism, and the obvious shortcomings of 24hr Day Creationism — which as a personal approach is totally legitimate but as a scientific thesis is practically and scripturally impossible. It is force today for one reason only — Common Descent Evolutionism, the biggest science joke and insult to the human intellect of the modern era (Hitlerism excluded).You are welcome to review the current situation in origins science, any time you wish.