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Goldilocks and the sun


Psalm 93 is a description of God’s reign on earth– that it is eternal, everlasting, and shall last “forevermore.” One of the images that the poet incorporates is of the steadfastness of the earth: the world is established, it shall never be moved. This is imagery we see in other places through the Psalms; in Psalm 96 the stability of the earth is linked with God’s fairness, justice, and equality. Psalm 104 is especially beautiful,  where the poet describes God as  “stretching out the heavens like a tent” and “covering it with the deep as a garment”; all these images are interwoven with the firmness of the earth “set on its foundations so that it can never be moved.” When David restores the ark to Jerusalem, he repeats the same idea: the earth will never be moved. It is set upon unshakeable pillars and foundations. Along with this concept that the earth is fixed in space come descriptions of the sun and stars moving across the heavens.

These passages, and other passages like it, form the basis for an argument known as geocentrism, or, as AiG puts it, “more properly geokinetism.” It’s the idea that Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler cumulatively defeated: that the sun, and the other planets in our solar system, revolve around the earth. 

We are all pretty familiar with where the story goes from there, especially when Galileo enters. This is where the argument for geocentrism is primarily based on the authority of the magisterium. Church tradition affirmed this teaching, occasionally going as far as making statements during Galileo’s time that heliocentrism is heresy, and contrary to Church dogma. It’s interesting to note that geocentrism still has loyal supporters– from people who are not fringe, like Robert Sungenis.

However, what many of the arguments for geocentrism ultimately reduce down to is this:

It is, therefore, consistent with Catholic teaching to believe that Jesus Christ . . has united divinity with humanity at the center of the universe which is earth. On a more basic level, if the earth is the center of the universe, then this means that someone put it there . . .

If the earth is indeed the center, then God is trying to tell us that we are special to Him. We are unique. We are destined to be with Him forever. This is why He opens His written revelation with the creation account. This is also why the atheists and agnostics want so badly to disprove geocentrism, because if they can do that, they can argue that there is no God. They want to argue that there is no God because they don’t want to be accountable to Him. If science would definitively disprove the geocentric theory, then, as St. Bellarmine suggests, “it would be necessary to proceed with great caution in explaining the passages of Scripture which seemed contrary, and we would rather have to say that we did not understand them than to say that something was false which has been demonstrated.”

If you grew up studying the arguments for Young Earth Creationism, then the  statements I’ve highlighted should sound intimately familiar to you. Because these arguments are what creationism boils down to: If you don’t believe in Creation, then there’s no reason to believe in God. And, by extension, many of the arguments for creationism revovle around how “special” the earth is. Everything on earth is set up to nourish and support life; it is so finely tuned, so perfectly balanced, that it couldn’t have possibly been an accident. It was intentional. It was created.

Except . . . Protestants and Catholics (well, unofficially. Officially, the Church has never annulled the statements regarding geocentrism, athough they issued a formal apology to Galileo) seemed to have gotten along without geocentrism just fine. Spectacularly fine, in fact.

And one thing I’m discovering as I move through new ways of thinking, of ordering my thoughts, of responding to and analyzing ideas, that giving up young earth creationism . . . well, it’s not the earth-shattering, faith-destroying decision I was taught it would be. I can look at how God formed Eve out of Adam’s rib and admit the possibility that this idea might have sprung from ancient Sumerian myth, where the “mother of all living,” Ninti, was formed out of Enki’s rib. I can look at the intentionality and orderliness of the Genesis account and contrast that with other creation mythologies, which were usually chaotic and desctructive, and lack a god calling everything in his creation “good.”

One of my favorite Tolkien works is The Silmarillion, and what I love the most about it is in the first few pages– the Music of the Ainur. In this passage, Ilúvatar creates the Holy Ones, the Ainur, and they make music so lovely that it creates the world. But, Tolkien makes a statement in the first paragraph that has always resonated with me.

But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in he understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.


walking through the woods in wonder

[where I walk every day when the sun is shining]

When I was about sixteen, I remember laying in my backyard. It was early summer in Florida, and the heat was that balmy sort of pleasantness where you can enjoy it as long as you don’t move. Drowsiness took over that afternoon as I spread my hair out over a blanket and let the sunlight sink into my skin. A humid, warm wind caressed my arms and legs, and I remember staring deeply into the grass next to my face. I studied each blade of grass, watched the ants hauling one piece of sand at a time, saw a dragonfly land before it took off for the cherry tree, and I marveled.

Not for the first time, I remember thinking that the world was a miraculous place. Grass and tress can grow— it always seemed beyond me that living things have the ability to reproduce, to heal, to extend further into their piece of the universe. I wondered at the near-impossible intricacies that defined every moment, every breath. How rich and wide and wonderful the world was.

What always accompanied these thoughts was a bone-deep awareness of God’s handiwork. How can anyone think this is anything less than created? That a blade of grass or the color of my eyes is all because  of chance?

I grew up believing in literal six-day young earth creationism. I’ve read every book they published on the subject, and spent two years in college regularly reading the new issues of Ex Nihilo (it’s been renamed as Journal of Creation). I fervently defended it any time I had the opportunity. To me, the “theory of macro-evolution,” as I always referred to it, made no sense. I had also been told by nearly everyone in my life that theistic evolution was a completely untenable point of view– if you believe in God, and you believe that God created things, it’s nonsensical to not accept the events of Genesis. Why do you need neo-Darwinian evolution if you believe in God? I had been taught that evolution was an intellectual outgrowing of atheism– if you don’t believe in God, well, you still need an explanation for how the world got here– hence The Theory.

For me, personally, I think I emotionally needed creationism. I was frequently and intensely overcome by awe when I viewed nature, and I somehow needed for it to be orderly and precise. In order for my universe to make sense, creationism was the only answer I had access to. I grew up being told to take the Bible supremely literally, to always assume that its statements were always completely fact-oriented. I heard arguments that the first chapter of Geneses was mythic poetry, and I was harshly commanded to ignore that lie. The Bible is not a myth, it is not a fairy tale, and everything about our faith depends on a literal interpretation of the first three chapters. If we can accept that these are not literal, what else in the Bible are we going to accept as non-literal? Not believing in creationism was a slippery slope that could only end in atheism and, horrendously, moral relativism.


When I was in graduate school, I abruptly encountered an impasse. At this point in my life, I had grown used to re-examining many of my deeply held and most cherished beliefs. But, I hadn’t gone anywhere near evaluating the validity of young earth creationism. It had been such an integral part of my faith system for as long as I could remember believing in God, and, at that moment, it seemed superfluous. Honestly, to me, it still is.

But what brought me to this place, what wrenched me from a staunchly-defended position to one of ambivalence, was a single scientific study. In all my previous internet forays, I had made an odd friend of sorts. We were each other’s opposition on a variety of forums, but we somehow formed a respectful bond. He sent me a study that linked endogenous retroviruses and common ancestry. I read it, and the evidence was powerfully compelling.

So, I did what any good creationist would do– I found a geneticist that works with Answers in Genesis, and I wrote him a letter. I included a link to the study and asked him to provide a counter-argument.

The reply I received was complete and utter  BULL SHIT.

I cannot express that firmly enough. My letter had been articulate and had indicated that I had a passing, non-scholarly familiarity with biochemistry and genetics. His reply was dismissive, anti-intellectual, belittling, and insulting. He reacted childishly and implied that if I could accept any peer-reviewed study as “evidence for evolution,” that obviously I wasn’t educated in creationism enough, and he directed me to the AiG page on genetics. Which did not address my question at all.

I was so far beyond frustrated. And I decided that I wasn’t going to bother anymore. I wrote my friend back, told him what had happened, and that I would, eventually, re-think some things. Not right then– right then I was putting together a paper on Frankenstein, the birth of chemistry, and how scientific philosophy affects literature. I asked him a few questions about galvanism and moved on with my life.


Last Saturday, I was walking through the woods that line the Chesapeake Bay. At first my walk was energetic and brisk, but when I reached a deeper part of the woods where the houses disappear and all you can hear are the gentle lap of waves, I slowed down. I paid attention. I listened to the multi-layered symphony my footsteps caused. The gentle, gritty, sliding crunch of sand, the muted crack of pine cones and twigs, the crinkle-snapping of leaves, and the plush, muted compression of pine needles. Sunlight bounded off of barely-cresting waves, the wind murmured back and forth between the treeline and the shoreline. I stopped and closed my eyes. I heard the birdsong, felt the wind, absorbed the sun.

And as I listened, I felt a newness . . . a dawn, of sorts.

I don’t need literal six-day young earth creationism to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of nature. I don’t need it for my world to make sense. I don’t need it in order to believe in balance, or provision.

For me, I can look at the artistry of Genesis and see the beauty and power of myth. I find it comforting, actually, that my religion began by deeply rooting itself in myth. That I have a creation story that emphasizes order instead of chaos, where the creation of the world was intentional instead of happenstance. I have a creation myth where the creator-god looks on the physical splendor of what he’s made at calls it morally perfect and absolutely beautiful.