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Seven Pillars of Creation

I recently read Michael P. Brown’s “The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder“, an exploration of scripture in light of modern science, with emphasis on our current ecological crisis here on Earth. Brown, a Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, explores what the Bible and science have to say about our proper relationship to the earth, to nonhuman life, and to each other.

Brown does this by exploring each of the seven creation narratives that he identifies in the Bible. Genesis is the the most famous creation narrative, but there are clearly others.

The following are the seven pillars identified by Brown, along with some of the themes that he highlights for each one:

Brown explores all these themes while holding a running dialogue with modern scientific knowledge. His goal is not, like biblical creationists, to present the Bible as inerrant and scientifically accurate; nor does he come from the other end, trying to debunk the Bible as a backward text with no valid meaning for moderns. He does compare the ancient text with modern knowledge, and he discusses the points at which the ancient text is or is not contradicted by modern science. But the goal is not to grade the Bible as a scientific paper. The goal is a dialogue.

For example, we read in Genesis that God looked upon creation and “saw that it was good.” Brown asks what this might mean in light of quantum mechanics, in particular the famous “observer effect” — the fact that “observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes it.” For Brown, this fact suggests that God did not merely look passively upon a finished product, but that God’s looking was part of the creation — part of what finished the process and made it “good.”

Brown has several further reflections on what the creation narratives might be saying in light of modern cosmology, Darwinian evolution, chaos theory, scientific definitions of time, etc.

Some of this may be well-trod territory. But as a lifelong reader of the Bible — and not a scientist — I found it consistently interesting. And though the book covers fairly well-known science such as the Big Bang, I learned some new ideas about the possible ultimate fate of the universe (ch. 9: “The Fabric of the Cosmos”), and the possible origins of art and religion.

Brown also mentions an interesting theory linking gender with the evolution of intelligence in primates (ch. 7: “Wisdom’s World”).

There are a couple of things in this book that I think are especially useful:

See also: A Review of the Seven Pillars of Creation.

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