Genesis 1–11 is often the hot topic of discussion amongst Creationists, Naturalists, and Biblicists; the dialogue, or “yelling match”, is usually framed around the premiss of Genesis’ historicity relative to its accounting of the divine fiat in the creation of the world. The creationist argues that Genesis 1 should be seen as a scientific narrative describing how God created the world. The naturalist (Neo-Darwinian) similarly assumes the same ground as the “creationist” and disputes the claims of the creationist on the faulty assumption that Genesis’ primary intention was to describe how God created; they are both wrong!
The primary intention of Genesis 1–11 was and is to introduce us to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob contra or opposed to the pagan deities of the ancient past. Dr. Al Baylis says (one of my profs from seminary):
. . . These thoughts [he just described the pagan deities which Israel was surrounded by, and all of their “creation myths”] bring us face-to-face with a sobering fact. People become like the gods they worship. Their gods are their models. It would be disastrous if Israel thought Yahweh her God was like other gods. In fact, God warns his people that if they become as depraved as the people of Canaan, he will eject them from Palestine as well (Lev. 18:24-30). The Bible, then, begins with the most essential element of Torah—the real story about the true God—so the people of God may live a free and wholesome life.
But if we’re trying to learn about God, why tell the story of creation? Doesn’t that center on learning about the world? About origins? Geology? Not really. The Bible begins at the beginning not because Moses is a history buff obsessed with ancient chronology but because understanding God’s creation of the world gives us a clear picture of what God is like. (Al Baylis, “From Creation to the Cross,” 26-7 [brackets mine])
As Baylis highlights the frame surrounding any discussion of Genesis 1–11 is not a scientific debate, but an introduction to a Holy God who is separate and above the pagan deities of the world. In other words, when we approach this narrative unit, we should see it as an fundamental essential part to the intended intratextual whole of the Torah. There is literary genius at work here (what else this is an inspired document of Yahweh), and intended meaning belongs to the author usus loquendi, not the audience (i.e. reader response), which is what the whole creationist/evolutionist debate reflects (i.e. reader response).
Conversely, Baylis continues discussing some of the concepts this introduction of God implies for its intended audience, and how this unit (1–11) functions within the trajectory of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) as a whole; he says:
Concept #1: God is the transcendent, sovereign ruler of the creation. He is in complete control. He is not a part of it. Nor does it control him. It came into existence at his command. The earth is not a dead, defeated god. There is no god of the sea. For the pagan, the world was a fearsome place. The large sea creatures were feared as semigods. “Baal’s adversaries were gods like himself, or demons to be propiated.” But for Israel there is only one God. The productive earth, the seasons, and the light were all good gifts from the hand of God; provided in his original creation. These gifts are not dependent on cultic magic or the whim of gods, but are gracious provisions from the very first. This is why praise to the Creator is in order. This is Moses’ very warning to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8. They are ready to enter the land. They have seen God’s direct, supernatural provision of food in the wilderness. But when they settle in the land and harvest abundant crops, they might say, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (Deut. 8:17). Such a viewpoint is rank heresy. They are to recognize God’s hand in his provision for them even through these oridinary channels. (Al Baylis, “From Creation to the Cross,” 30)
He goes on further, and elaborates other implications of why Genesis 1–11 is included in the Bible; but this should suffice in illustrating the import and intention of this highly volatile section of scripture.
To reduce Genesis 1–11 to a science text-book (i.e. Creationists) is to rape the text of scripture with our own selfish desires. To assume a naturalistic (evolutionist) worldview is to imbibe the metaphysic that Genesis 1 originally argued against (i.e. the physical world as god). While Genesis 1 and following was not primarily intended to talk science, it does in effect confront contemporary science; insofar as science today is undergirded by a metaphysic at odds with the one presented by Genesis 1–2 (i.e. the presupposition of my comment here is that science is not simply shaped by dealing with the emperical brute cold facts of observation—rather, science is just as “religious” and metaphysically oriented as religion is purported to be).
In closing, if we are going to talk about Genesis and the Torah we are bound, as good exegetes, to engage this area of scripture on its own contextual terms; and not our own. This discussion needs to be re-framed, both the Creationist and Evolutionist can have their rantings—but they should leave Genesis 1–11 out of it, since as Baylis has rightly underscored, this part of scripture has nothing to do with the typical framing it has generally received by these two parties. There definitely is competition taking place within the context of Genesis 1–11, but this “game” involves the true God (Yahweh) versus the false gods (the pagan deities of the surrounding nations of Israel); and the false god’s lose as they are used as the foil to introduce the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.