How did God create the universe and the Earth? Did He constantly had to resort to supernatural intervention or did He just created a system of physical laws that led to the self operation of the universe? If so, are we here just by accident? Or was there a divine design behind our existence?
Also, how do we reconcile what we read in the Bible with what the scientists discover? Are we upholding our “faith” when we refuse to consider anything that doesn’t immediately look like what the Bible teaches? Are we betraying God when we study science and try to find out what really happened through science?
(This lesson will not go into the formation of the universe, which the Bible discusses in very ambiguous ways. This lesson focuses the formation of the Earth, particularly the surface environment which determines how life can survive on it.)
Common Problems with Genesis Chapter 1
Some of the questions frequently asked of Genesis 1 are:
1. Did God create this universe with His own hands, or did He use other means?
2. Why was the universe so messed up if a perfect God created it?
3. How can there be light and darkness if the sun hasn’t been created (Day 1)? How can there be “day” and “night” if the sun, which is what we use to define “day” and “night,” is not there yet?
4. How can there be vegetation if the sun hasn’t been created (Day 3)? (Plants need the sun’s energy for photosynthesis)
God finally made the sun, the moon, and the stars on Day 4. How could the Earth be in any kind of regularity if there were not other planetary bodies that help determine Earth’s orbit?
The initial Earth — not ready to support life
When Earth was initially formed, it was very inhospitable. From our observation we see that planets farther from the sun tend to be larger and have thicker atmospheres (relative to their size), and therefore it is unusual that our current Earth has a much thinner atmosphere than Venus. Under a thick atmosphere, sunlight cannot penetrate well, the atmosphere would be very “heavy” (air pressure would be massive), and the temperature would be high due to green house effect. Basically we would not expect a planet with such characteristics to support advanced life.
Moon — a miracle or an accident?
What changed all that may be our moon. From studying the moon rocks, we know that it is very different from Earth and probably was not formed along with Earth from the same dust cloud. The most credible hypothesis for this now is that sometime during the formative stages of Earth’s history, another planetary body flew by the Earth and was disintegrated. The heavier elements of that body fell onto Earth’s surface, and the lighter elements condensed into the Moon. This would explain why the heavy metals are oftentimes concentrated. This event would also destroy the original atmosphere and allow a new, thinner one to form. In fact, the new Earth would have the right gravity so that it would keep much of the water (atomic weight 18) and lose much of the ammonia (atomic weight 17) and methane (atomic weight 16). Ammonia and methane are found in large quantities in larger planets in our solar system. For this phenomenon to occur, many of the variables (e.g., the velocity of that planetary body, the angle of approach, the distance between that body and the Earth… etc.) must be in a certain combination that is very precise. The probability of this is so low that this could be called a miracle in itself.
Day 1: Atmosphere cleared up a bit to allow sunlight to come in
As the new atmosphere began to form, the sky became more opaque and light could come in. However it was still dusty and an observer would not be able to see the sun and the moon. He could only see light and darkness as day and night.
Day 2: Water cycle began
Water vapor began to come down as rain so the sky can be even clearer. The water cycle regulates the temperature of Earth so it’s relatively stable.
Day 3: Dry land appeared, plants appeared
During this long period of time, plate tectonics worked to form continents. Although the sun and the moon were not distinctly visible, there’s enough light to allow photosynthesis.
Day 4: Sun and the moon “appeared”
Plants and water cycle caused the sky to become transparent and the sun and the moon to become visible to those on Earth’s surface.
Day 5: Animals appeared
The plants would have helped transformed the Earth and make it ready to support animal life, which cannot live by making food on their own from sunlight.
Day 6: God made humans
When things are pretty much ready, God made humans and told them to “keep the garden.”
Day 7: God rested — no more new creation
Scientists found that fossil records tend to suggest that new life forms appear suddenly rather than gradually, as evolution suggests. Yet there hasn’t been new life form found since humans appeared.
Miracle or Accident?
Is the whole transformation of Earth and the creation of life a miracle or an accident? The Earth came to be a life-supporting planet through some pretty improbable happenstances, and life is so complex that it couldn’t possibly have emerged by itself from total chaos. This is the basics of the principle of entropy–things in nature tend to move toward disorder. Miracle or accident? You decide.
Questions from Previous Discussions
Why did God use this “limited knowledge” perspective? Isn’t He capable of understanding what was going on? Why didn’t He just write them down as they are?
To answer this question, we have to explore the alternatives. First, most people think that at least part of the Genesis was given to Moses by God when he was with God on Mt. Sinai for 40 days. My best guess is that He showed Moses a vision, and Moses recorded what he saw (just as John the Apostle recorded the future events on Patmos) the best he could. Moses had no knowledge of modern scientific ideas such as density or humidity, so many of the phenomena were recorded in very strange terms. God chose not to give him the space-craft perspective perhaps because Moses will not be able to understand what that shiny round ball is. Imagine what would be the impact on science if God told him that we live on a round ball. Also, using modern scientific concepts will make it incomprehensible to people in the past, and probably kill the credibility for people today. If someone today claims that God has revealed to him the process of this re-creation, most people will assume that he invented it based on his scientific knowledge. Furthermore, by using that perspective, God allowed the ancient people to take the account as a story and the modern people to understand it based on their scientific knowledge. In either case the account is timely and useful. An account that is consistent with modern scientific understanding but written at a time when such understanding is not available automatically helps prove its divine authorship.
How is this Christian account any different from the legends of other civilizations or religions?
Ancient legends that seek to explain natural phenomena have special characteristics. First, they tend to offer post facto “answers” to specific, unanswerable questions of the people, for example, why does the Moon lose part of itself sometimes? As our scientific understanding of these phenomena improves, we come to see these legends as simple ancient stories and discard their explanatory uses. Second, they tend to be quite simple, enough so that kids can absorb. Explanation is useful only if it can be understood by its listeners. Third, they tend to fail the test of modern science. After all, they were written to cover up people’s ignorance of science.
Legends of other civilizations and religions tend to obey these three characteristics. Today, no one seriously believes that seasons are causes by the activities of Greek deities, or that the missing portions of the Moon are eaten by the Heavenly Dog (a Chinese legend). We still tell of these legends as ancient literature. Yet the Biblical account of Genesis is very different from other legends in many aspects, although it also offers an explanation to a question that was unanswerable with the science of the day. First, it is too complex to be a good legend. The description of the state of the Earth is confusing even for the modern readers. For example, what does it mean to separate light from darkness? What does it mean to separate the water? This point alone makes the Genesis account an unlikely legend, at least for the purpose of explaining the questions of the ancient people. Second, it does not fail the test of modern science, once we see it in the proper perspective. This casts serious doubt on the secular origin of this account. How can a legend, which is supposed to be used to cover up people’s ignorance, be comprehensible thousands of years later when science finally catches up, but difficult to absorb at the time of its writing? This fact alone should convince us that this account is not man-made but divinely inspired, or even given by God directly.
Isn’t this all the result of rationalization as we try to explain the difficult passage of Genesis 1?
Like most written materials, much of the Bible requires interpretation to give its meaning. The scientific explanation offered by Dr. Ross is an interpretation that happens to be based on science and is consistent with the Biblical account. The validity of the interpretation is subject to dispute, and many people today are educated enough to make their own judgments. Yet if this interpretation seems too perfect, then it may be the case that it is true.
Is God less than omnipotent? Why did He have to use the extra planetary body to put heavy metals on Earth’s surface?
If God were truly omnipotent, He will have more than one way to accomplish whatever He wants to accomplish. Whichever the way He chooses to do this is a manifestation of His unlimited ability, although our feeble minds are not prevented from evaluating it for ourselves. Consider the task of peeling an apple. A person can peel it with a small knife, or he can design a computer and a robotic arm, and then write the computer software to control the robotic arm to peel the apple. The first method is a direct method, while the second method is one in which he does not perform the task himself. Which one is more impressive to you? Does God impress you more by creating heavy metals on Earth’s surface with His own hands, or by setting everything up perfectly so that planetary body puts heavy metals on Earth and makes the Moon at the same time? Does God impress you more by healing your sickness directly through prayer, or by healing you through the herb on the ground which He created thousands of years ago? What are we to judge how God should do a certain thing? As Christians, we tend to undervalue the visible things which are no less miraculous than those that are invisible.
Are the “days” in Genesis 1 really 24-hour days?
There are some people who argue that those must be literal 24-hour days because it mentions the “evenings” and “mornings” which are physical phenomena associated with a literal day. There are others who say a “day” is only a measurement of time and could really represent “years” (e.g., Daniel 9) or “thousands of years” (2Peter 3:8) or some other timeframe. Then there are others who say “days” represent distinct time periods and could be any amount of real time. Frankly all could be true, and even a non-24-hour day could have physical “evenings” and “mornings.” Consider the length of daylight during summers in North and South Poles, which can last for weeks. If the pole of rotation of the Earth is always tilting to the sun at the same angle when viewing from “the north,” then one of the poles will always have daylight and the other, darkness. So theoretically there is a possibility of literal days that are nowhere near 24 hours long. Geologists have known for many years that the pole and magnetic configurations of the Earth changes very frequently in the past. What I’m proposing here is not inconceivable.
The Hebrew word that scholars translated into “day” can mean “a period of time,” which does not necessarily a complete self-rotation of the Earth (one day). The mentioning of sunrise and sunset does not mean that there’s only one sunrise and sunset in one day…
Science and the Bible
Natural sciences are our attempts to understand God’s creation. Frequently we revise our “science” because we discover new evidence to disprove or modify our existing knowledge. The thinking that current scientists know how things are made is too naive, but the denying well-grounded science because of our ignorance of the Biblical truth is even more tragic. With proper application, science can help us to appreciate God and His wondrous creations even more.
Why then, do some of us have concerns about learning the Bible and finding conflicts with our knowledge? Why do we have misunderstandings about the scientific bases of the Bible? There are three main reasons:
1. We don’t understand the Bible because we don’t study it.
2. We have misconceptions about the Bible before we study it, and these misconceptions (e.g., Bible is not scientific and thus we need to believe and not ask questions) cause us to see things in the wrong manner.
3. We do not have the courage to find out the reasons because we fear finding conflicts instead. There are always conflicts in the pursuit of knowledge, because one of them could be wrong or we don’t understand the things well enough. That does not mean we should not study it. Indeed, once we study more, we may find the answers that resolve the “conflict” we thought existed.
Ancient Jewish people studied the Bible vigorously because they believed in four principles:
1. Bible is from God.
2. Bible is 100% true.
3. Bible does not contain useless material — everything deserves some attention.
4. Bible has relevant lessons for us today.
If we also accept these four principles, we will want to learn more about the Bible. Natural science is the study of the creations of God, and therefore scientists are also seeking the Truth. Too often we accept the imperfect understanding of science as the “truth” and other times we laugh at the misinterpretations of the Bible because they sound so ridiculous. When we study both and resolve the “conflicts” that come from our lack of understanding, we can truly appreciate God and His wondrous work.
 This lesson is largely based on The Genesis Question by Dr. Hugh Ross, NavPress.
For a more thorough discussion on this question, consider the reasons why Jesus used parables in His teachings.