A Sermon by Dr Baden Teague

Text: “In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, …”

        (Genesis 1:1)

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.


On most Sundays here this sermon is about the Bible readings. Tonight our readings were from Exodus, Psalms and Romans. The first describes God’s promise to the people of Israel immediately after they escaped from Egypt through the Red Sea. Secondly, the Psalm of David encourages us to be thankful that God is merciful, gracious and “abounding in steadfast love.” Our third reading is from St Paul who gives us practical advice not to tread on the feelings of others, but to act with respect, sympathy and love. “Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died!” These three excellent readings, Exodus 15, Psalm 103 and Romans 15, however, will NOT be my sermon tonight. Please may I ask you then to read these passages again yourselves and please be strengthened by them.

Rather, I have been asked in this sermon to speak about Creation. We believe  that God created “heaven and earth”. This month, September, the first month of Spring, will see our Cathedral sermons all about Creation.

My text then is about Creation and is found both in Genesis and in our Prayerbook. The Apostles’ Creed which we all repeated a few minutes ago says this: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” ‘God made heaven and earth’ means ‘God made everything’. At this morning’s service here we repeated the Nicene Creed which says, “we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”

Clearly, this morning’s creed has the same meaning as this evening’s creed but the longer version (written at the Council of Nicea in the year 325) emphasises that God is one and emphasises that God made “all that is”, everything, including not only what we can see but also what we cannot see.

The Nicene Creed finishes up returning to the opening theme: God made, God governs and God will judge “the living and the dead”, and “his kingdom will have no end”. “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Our Prayerbook for almost 2000 years has contained these same Christian creeds. Our creeds, our Christian statements of belief, begin with Creation and end with Eternal Life.

This Christian theology of Creation is based on the two Creation stories which for 2600 years have been the opening two chapters of the Bible. In the book of Genesis please read chapter one and chapter two. These two stories strengthen each other but have quite different elements to them. The first describes God as Elohim but the second describes God as Yahweh. The two Creation stories have different styles and different ranges of vocabulary. The first describes Creation in seven stages, the other story has only one stage. The first begins with a formless void into which come light and darkness, then sea and land, before describing plants, animals and humankind. The second story begins with humankind, emphasizes that there is only one God (not many gods) and quickly moves on to the breakdown of God’s relationship with humankind because of humankind’s disobedience.

Interestingly, these two Creation narratives in Genesis have a poetic insistence on the number seven. For the writer this number seven had immense symbolic value denoting ‘divine completion’. God’s creation of the world is unique, it is planned, completed and “very good”. The first verse of this narrative has seven Hebrew words. Elohim is mentioned 35 times (5 times 7), heaven 21 times (3 times 7), earth 21 times (3 times 7) and the completion phrases, “and it was so” and “God saw that it was good” occur 7 times each. The narrative is carefully constructed, more like a poem than prose. It is not intended to be taken literally. Its purpose is theological: God is one; God created everything; God saw it all completed and it was very good. Humankind is not among the gods but is uniquely created for every person to have a relationship with the one God. That is, humankind is created in God’s own image. Humankind is created free to choose, free to obey or disobey, free to accept or reject the love of God. God eventually is described as merciful, wanting to forgive, gracious and abounding in steadfast love.

The Genesis account of Creation is theological. It is not intended to be read literally. There is no attempt in the Bible to say how creation happened or by what precise processes the earth, the stars, the plants and the animals came to be as we observe them today.

This question of how? has been answered quite differently by each succeeding education system over the 2600-year period that the Genesis text has existed. For example, all of Europe for most of these years, up until the end of the Middle Ages, answered the how question by referring to the Greek science of Aristotle and the Greek (Alexandrian) astronomy of Ptolemy. This education system was called “scholasticism”. But scholasticism was rejected following the great revolutions in ideas that we call ‘The Renaissance’, ‘The Reformation’ and ‘The Rise of Modern Science’.

After that rejection, two centuries later and about 150 years ago, Europe (and the whole world) gained a huge expansion in Science regarding both time and space perspectives. We call this the ‘Discovery of Time’. This discovery emerged in Geology, Biology and Astronomy. We now know that the Earth was formed in our solar system about 4500 million years ago and that the stars we can see with our naked eyes are only a tiny fraction of the trillions of galaxies that exist in the huge cosmos all around us. In particular, through the increasingly exact science of fossil research and through new knowledge of both plants and animals (since Darwin and Wallace) we now date the earliest animals to have lived 600 million years ago. South Australia is famous around the world in this regard, for it was here in our Flinders Ranges at Ediacra that Reg Sprigg, our greatest geologist, in 1946 discovered the oldest animals.  Their era is now universally described in all textbooks worldwide as the ‘Ediacran era’ that preceded the Cambrian era when animals became more complex: for example, some began to have backbones.

For all of the last century, modern Science has clearly established that all the thousands of individual species of plants and animals did not exist as they do now when life first began on earth. Rather, these individual species developed over time to suit a range of ecologies. This development of the species is summed up by the word ‘Evolution’. We now know, and all our universities and schools teach, that the answer to the How question is to be found in one or other of the slightly different and competing theories of Evolution.

Nothing in the old Scholasticism and nothing in the Modern Science of Evolution takes away one jot from the Christian’s sound belief that God created everything. We all should look to the Bible for our Theology. At the same time we all should look to frontiers of contemporary Science to answer the How question.

Let me interject here a little of my own personal story. When I preach here at the Cathedral the choir and clergy are robed and I am asked, as the Lay Preacher licensed by our Archbishop, to stand in the pulpit wearing my academic gown and hood. As you can see, my gown and hood are lined with a splendid red cloth. It means that I graduated as a Doctor of Cambridge University. My field of research study was Philosophy. My principle questions were ‘What makes any explanation work? What are the requirements of any area of knowledge to be sound? What is a valid claim about knowledge and why? I asked these questions by focussing on the Rise of Modern Science in the 17th Century in Europe. My methods were in part Philosophy and in part History. Before I went off to Cambridge for these three years I had already graduated here in Adelaide in Science and graduated as well with an Honours Degree in History. Sometimes in this pulpit I wear a grey hood (as an Arts graduate) or a yellow hood (as a Science graduate). These nine years of university studies were a great joy to me because I did learn significant answers to my questions and I became confident to face the whole world with these answers. On return to South Australia 49 years ago I taught History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Adelaide and had hundreds of marvellous students. But as it happens I then felt called to apply the lessons I had learned by getting into the challenge of Politics. I set out to apply my skills to the Australian questions of the present and the future. I served as a Senator in seven Australian Parliaments.

Now let me sum this up. It is not important whether I wear grey, yellow or red on my academic gown. I mention this to underline that I spent nine university years when I was a young man grappling with the theology of Creation. I wanted to gain sound principles on which to decide what kinds of knowledge were valid and for which kinds of questions did one area of knowledge actually provide good answers. What is the foundation for Science? And what is the foundation for Theology? How do we best integrate all that we soundly know?

What are my conclusions then about Creation?

  • Yes, I believe that God created everything.

I do affirm the Christian creeds.

Yes, I value the book of Genesis and am guided by its Theology.

  • Yes, I am a student of the Sciences.

I value Science, including the best answers for How questions.

I teach that the plant and animal species are not changeless but have developed over enormous periods of time by processes that require us to understand Genetics and Evolutionary Biology.

  • I see no conflict between Science and Theology.

Rather I seek to integrate these knowledge areas and all knowledge areas into a coherent whole.

  • The Earth in particular is God’s world.

The Earth is precious and we should not abuse the Environment.

As Christians we are called to protect the Environment.

Yes, I have been greatly encouraged by my friend, the German theologian, Professor Jurgen Moltmann, especially 15 to 10 years ago, in his letters to me and by his books, not least articulating the Christian’s duty to protect the Environment.

  • Yes, as a Warden in this Cathedral I have urged all of us here to adopt the projects that we call “the Green Cathedral”.
  • Yes, in my own small way I contribute every year to put my shoulder to the wheels to win sound Environment policies in the Federal, State and local government areas.
  • I am passionate about being one of many who care for the Earth. We should be good stewards of all Creation.
  • I am very active in the enlightened charity called Nature Foundation South Australia. For some years now I have been the leader of the Ambassador group for Nature Foundation.
  • Yes, I believe that God created the heaven and the earth. May I urge everyone to embrace the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and to embrace what it means to believe in creation.