Let's summarise the conclusions we've reached.
Our foundation is that Scripture and science, rightly interpreted, will both support faith in God and so believers should have no reluctance to look at the science as well as at the Bible. According to Scripture, studying the natural world - science, in short - is to be encouraged. It will point the inquirer towards, not away from, God, for 'the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands'. Evidence from the world around us complements the evidence of Scripture. The right interpretation of Scripture and of science will be one that sees them in harmony and not in conflict: the 'two books', of God's Word and God's works, must tell a consistent story, for God does not contradict Himself.
We looked at Bible language. The Bible uses evocative poetic and figurative language both in describing the natural world and in describing how God interacts with the world - language that can be very moving, although it is clearly not intended to be taken literally as scientific fact. We might expect to find such language in the Biblical account of how the world came to be.
The Bible also describes God's involvement with the world, intimate though it is, in ways that clearly involve Him using natural processes to do so - processes associated for example with feeding animals and birds, or with determining the weather. Neither the ancient Hebrews' knowledge of those natural processes, nor ours, detracts in any way from the reality of God's connection with them. Those natural processes are there because God wanted them to be there. No distinction is made between those 'acts of God' that can clearly be accomplished through appropriately-timed natural events, and those (rare) instances that as far as we know, require excursions outside the normal laws of nature or at least of probability.
We saw that science is a good thing, because study of the natural world reveals something of God's works; and that contemporary beliefs are not necessarily corrected by Bible writers. The language of Scripture, like the parables of Jesus in particular, is designed to be memorable and vivid, using powerful metaphors and pictorial ideas to press home a point. Examples include the way wisdom, folly and evil are personified. Sometimes, ideas current at the time, such as belief in demons and evil spirits, are used without correcting them: the Bible writers are more concerned to teach key spiritual and moral lessons (about the supremacy of Jesus over human mental and physical suffering, for example, or the need to resist evil) than to convey a correct scientific understanding to people who wouldn't have been able to comprehend it anyway.
We have seen that the Bible isn?t teaching science, and that far from being a reaction to Darwin, a recognition of this and the adoption of a non-literal view of Genesis were both well established centuries ago.
We then looked at the structure of the Genesis story, and what it aims to achieve. We saw that the structure of Genesis chapter 1 is very stylized, with the pattern of two sets of three days, suggesting that the record is teaching us a lesson other than chronological sequence. In particular we've seen that a literal reading leads to clear contradictions between chapter 1 and chapter 2, as the sequences of events are quite different.
We considered the symbols that Genesis uses. Looking more closely at the early chapters, we see just the sort of poetic, figurative language we might have expected. Many of the motifs and symbols used reflect various creation myths from the ancient Near East, but rather than just rehashing those stories the Bible subtly but brilliantly turns them around. It does so for example to show that the sun. moon and stars, far from being deities in their own right, are no less and no more than parts of the true, transcendent God's creation; or that humanity, instead of being a plaything for the Gods or a labour saving device, is the culmination of God's creation.
Moreover, many of the ideas used in Genesis are taken up later in Scripture in a clearly symbolic way - the serpent as a metaphor for evil, for example, or trees as a source of life. If we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, it's logical that if such concepts aren't to be taken literally in (say) Revelation, they probably shouldn?t be taken literally in Genesis either. Further, some of the pictures evoked by Genesis - God going for a walk in the garden, for example, or Adam and Eve hiding from Him in the bushes - can appear almost absurd if taken too literally, while aspects such as the shame associated with nakedness are clearly cultural in nature.
We considered the description of Adam as ?made from dust', and by referring to other passages of Scripture saw that this could be indirect: the key message is not that Adam appeared, fully formed, from a pile of dust on the ground, but rather that we're all made of the same 'stuff' as the rest of the natural world. It is only through having a special, privileged relationship with God that we in any sense rise above and transcend our humble 'earthy'origins.
We posed the question 'Who was Adam?' and saw that features of the account - animal husbandry and the early mention of cultivation, the appearance of 'cities', the problem of Cain's wife and his fear that others would attack and kill him - suggest the presence of other people contemporary with those described in early Genesis, and a Neolithic background. That said, we noted that Adam and Eve - whether a specific couple or a representative description of early humanity - have a special place in that they were evidently the first people to be allowed to enter into a covenant relationship with God.
If we read the early chapters of Genesis in an other than literal way, we can reject the false choice that both the fundamentalists and the atheists would like to force upon us - a choice between science and faith, one or the other. The tragic result of imposing that choice on people is that many are turned away from faith altogether. The truth is very different: it is that science AND faith, evolution and a God who's behind it all, are quite compatible.
Once we have moved on from a simple literal reading of Genesis, the real grandeur of the narrative becomes clearer. We see the wonderful panoply of the natural world, coming into existence under the sovereignty of an all-powerful God Who transcends our space and time: a God in whose sight creation culminates in humankind with the capacity to know Him, the opportunity to love and obey Him, and the potential to be united with Him as creation fulfils its destiny. In the words of Sheila Harris[xvi]:
"Genesis chapter 1 is the glorious panoramic vision of God's whole purpose in creation, from the darkness of chaos to the final consummation of God's glory, manifested in a people who reflect His image, male and female, Christ and his bride. It is a paean of praise to the Creator, structured after the pattern of a week of worship culminating in the Sabbath when God may finally rest from His labours, His work accomplished."