Science and the Bible's Creation Story in Genesis 1

By Ken Wear, posted February 2000

The degree of correlation, between what science tells us about the origin of our planet and its life and the story as told in the opening chapter in the Bible, seems remarkable to me. Our pre-Palomar (200 inch telescope -- brought on line in 1948) universe was limited in extent and content, and the preacher's insistence on creation of it all in one sweep seemed within the bounds of reason. But it requires a far greater leap of faith to accept the theory of the Big Bang -- the greatest violation of science that science has ever concocted* -- than to accept the thought of deity and His involvement. If we limit the creation story to our solar system with its sun and planets, Genesis 1 gives a much more plausible story than explosion of an egg that had no origin. I contend there is no essential disagreement between Genesis 1 and science. With our present knowledge of our galaxy among the billions of galaxies I stand in awe at the magnitude of that portion of creation embraced by the Bible as well as the insight presented in Genesis 1.

*Cause and effect, the foundation of science, is not compatible with the notion of effect without cause, especially such a dramatic and far-reaching effect as creation of the whole universe.

NOTE : Quotations from the Bible are PURPLE; Others are GREEN

In truth, the opening verse QuoteIn the beginning God created the heaven and the earthEndQuote (v.1, King James Version-- KJV) hints of a limited extent -- earth only with its immediate environment (heaven); it was an invention of religious teachers to include the totality of creation, the entire Universe. The alternative QuoteWhen God began to create the heavens and the earth . . . EndQuote (found in the Revised Standard Version -- RSV) is even more strongly suggestive of a less ambitious project; what may have transpired before the opening of the Bible story is in no way suggested. That is not to say that the notion, that only God pre-existed the opening account in the Bible, is in error; the text in the Bible is simply lacking in detail and cannot be cited to suggest the origin of God Himself or to support extension of the Bible story in Genesis 1 to the larger Universe.

When I was young it was common to insist that Godís six days of creation were days of one earthly rotation as we know them. Considering Godís almighty power that seemed a plausible assertion. But the Bible text was written in the language of the Jews so we ought to consider their notion of a day. Their day consists of morning, from sunrise to sunset, and evening, from sunset to sunrise -- a period of light followed by a period of darkness. Whereas KJV refers to the first day, second day, . . ., RSV says instead Quotethere was evening and there was morning, one day.EndQuote If I had a dream of a period of light of undefinable duration followed by a period of darkness also of undefinable duration, I would certainly be tempted to call it a day. Certainly, considering the development of science and language at the time this chapter was written, a more complete description would have fallen on ears incapable of understanding and thus been pointless. The revelation of Genesis 1 demonstrates the wisdom of God in presenting to His authors information within their ability to grasp.

When studying the Bible it is easy to dismiss a passage as patently in error and thus devoid of divine sanction; less easy but, alas, also unrevealing, is an unthinking acceptance of the wording as presented as being the inviolate word God Himself put upon the page. Either extreme results in reducing oneís motivation for further inquiry into the background, message or intent of a passage. But if Godís revelation to a mortal is somehow embraced by a Bible passage, then in our search for understanding we ought to try to reconstruct that revelation from the clues available; only in this way can we gain insight into the events that inspired that passage.

The Creation story as presented in the first chapter of Genesis affords an outstanding example of the extremes of Bible interpretation. We ought neither reject this material as unbelievable fabrication nor accept it as literal truth; neither Darwinís evolutionary theory --Quote survival of the fittestEndQuote-- nor dating Creation at 4004 B.C. (Bishop Usher's calculation) ought be accepted unthinkingly. Let us undertake a plausible reconstruction of the happenings reported in the Creation story (Gen. 1:1-2:1) and see if perhaps the presentations in the Bible may be found compatible with the scientific constructions growing out of astronomy and the theory of evolution.

Science speculates that gravity drew together gases and space debris into a swirling mass that gradually compressed with our sun at the vortex and the planets, asteroids, comets., etc., as left over remnants, some perhaps condensing from rings. Science also tells us that, in the genesis of life on Earth, simple forms appeared first and evolved into greater complexity. Plants led the parade. And the first habitat of life forms and of creatures was the oceans.

Imagine, if you will, a breeze causing ripples on the surface of a lake and the moonlight reflecting from the rippling surface, making sparkling scintillations as it illuminates first one crest and then another. Now turn in your imagination to a swirling mass of gases and debris lighted by a distant star and starlight reflecting from first one chunk and then another. Compare the two scenes. Quote. . . and the wind of God was moving over the face of the waters.EndQuote (v.2, alternate rendition, RSV) What vivid imagery in the language of the time to describe how scientists picture the swirling mass that became our solar system!

QuoteAnd God said, Let there be light.EndQuote (v.3) Our sun ignited. In that portion of the universe within the scope of the authorís revelation, where he may have seen a vaguely scintillating cloud (the waters), a light was born. The swirling gases, under the influence of gravity, had been drawn closer together, generating intense and increasing temperatures during the compression, until the combination of temperature, pressure and radioactivity ignited a hydrogen fusion reaction.

Quote . . . and God separated the light from the darkness . . . EndQuote (v.4) A flashlight beam through the darkness shows no light except where it strikes an object or particles suspended in the air; and the space between the planets is likewise dark except where there is a body for light to strike. The author reported here, from his vantage point beyond the solar system, his view before and after ignition of the sun with the regions of light (the sun and illuminated planets) and dark (regions between bodies) resulting from the sunís ignition. Quotethere was evening and there was morning, one day. EndQuote(v.5, RSV) A period of darkness (the waters) followed by a period of light (the sun): day one.

Quote And God said, ĎLet there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters . . .EndQuote (v.6, RSV) The earth was soon to appear in its orbital position, where it would intercept sunlight and hence bring light where there had been dark. What gaseous clouds (waters) remained near the earthís orbit condensed upon the earth, creating a void in the Quote watersEndQuote in the area of the QuotefirmamentEndQuote or solid substance. QuoteAnd there was evening and there was morning, a second day. EndQuote (v.8, RSV) Thus, the record of this evening (the void where Earth was to appear) and morning (a second day) seems a reasonable expression of incisive insight into or a revelation of Earthís origination.

Scientific understanding is that our earth was initially quite hot; it was likely smooth or nearly so; a large portion of earthís water doubtless existed as vapor in an atmosphere so dense as to shut out sunlight almost entirely from the earthís surface. But cooling caused distortion of the planetís crust into valleys and ridges, at the same time permitting an increasing portion of the water vapor to condense to cause bodies of liquid water and to initiate the water cycle with its surface erosion as well as life- supporting qualities. At some point during the cooling process, vegetation appeared. And so the scripture records gathering together the water under the heavens, the appearance of dry land, and the start of vegetation, again during a period described as evening (dark at the surface due to clouds) and morning, (v.13, RSV) a third day.

A point was reached in the condensation of earthís blanket of water vapor that light from the sun, moon and stars penetrated and became evident at the surface. (v.14-15) And now, from a point on the surface, the author was able to discern the sun and moon and stars (v.16), the alternate dark and light caused by our planetís rotation (v.17), and the seasonal effect of the inclination of its rotational axis. It seems reasonable to accept the authorís periods of dark and light during this day (the fourth) as the long term effect of earthís moisture blanket, from too dense for light to penetrate to visibility of heavenly bodies, rather than a 24-hour period from sunset to sunset. Quotethere was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.EndQuote (v.19, RSV)

Animate life appeared, first in the oceans and then on land (v.20-22, RSV) (day five) and, finally, man appeared (v.27). Quotethere was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.EndQuote (v.31, RSV). The correlation between the Bibleís account and the sequence as taught by science is remarkable. The principle difficulty -- the division into days -- has been here accounted for by relying on the Hebrew concept of a day and then shifting the vantage point of the observer. Explanation of the division between days five and six is less easy, although I suggest four possibilities: (1) cyclic condensations of water vapor so dense as to blot out the heavenly bodies, (2) a cloud of atmospheric debris thrown up by a crashing meteorite (as is thought to have ended the dinosaur era) so dense as to cause darkness at the surface, (3) some cataclysmic event external to earth caught the observerís attention, or (4) the reference was introduced due to the sequence of timing of his revelations. But it is evident that the order of creation of plant life and animal life, and the arrival of man, is, as recorded in the Bible, essentially in keeping with the views of advocates of science and of evolution.

The real wonder of the biblical account of Creation in Genesis 1 is that its author enjoyed sufficient insight as to offer anything of significance to us, and, using a language not arising from scientific endeavors, to express his insight in a manner intelligible in both his time and ours.

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You may have an interest in comment on other Bible stories:
For a discussion of how the waters parted for the Israelites escape from Egypt, click here.
For a discussion of the real and allegorical aspects of Noah's flood, click here.
For a short story that portrays Adam as the first human to worship the one true God and establishes a framework for the Biblical story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3-4), click here

I have challenged the Big Bang theory of origins; to read that, click here.
A summary in layman's terms of the scientific account of the origin of our solar system, Earth and life appears if you click here.

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Post Script added 5-17-06. When I was young we young people talked of Creation and we talked of the Bible. As knowledge of the universe was expanded -- remember I was young during the early days of revelations by the telescope at Palomar* -- the improbability of creation of the totality of it all in six rotations of Earth on its axis became increasingly apparent; insistence by clergy that the Bible was factually (and scientifically) correct in its entirety led to an intellectual rift. There was wholesale rejection of the absoluteness of the clergy's pronouncements (now referred to as Fundamentalism or the doctrine of inerrancy**, the notion that every word in the Bible is absolutely correct as expressed in our contemporary language), with the consequence that the entirety of church teaching became suspect. Many of my contemporaries, rather than study to learn the boundary between the clergy's assertion and the most probable truth, rejected church teachings in their entirety and, lacking an alternative, became atheistic.

It is true that the second chapter of Genesis seems an alternate account of the origin of Creation. But, let us examine the words of Genesis 2 to detect their apparent departure from Genesis 1. Verses 1-3 conclude the story presented in Genesis 1; verses 4-6 set the stage leading to verse 7, the origin of man; verses 8-17describe a local development in a specific location; logically there is no inconsistency between Genesis 1 and 2 to this point in the narrative. Verses 18-23 suggest original creation, but, rather than "forming out of the ground" (or from a rib in the case of woman), it may be regarded that these were brought before Adam in his Garden of Eden. The only truly difficult passage is verse 24, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (RSV). Adam's*** father and mother? It simply doesn't fit. Finally, verse 25: So they were naked! Hardly unlikely.

The logical difficulty Fundamentalist preachers face is insisting that every word in the Bible is literally correct; that fails to distinguish between allegory and history and expands the rift between science and religion.

*Palomar is the 200-inch telescope in California placed in operation about 1948-49; I was 20 at the time.
**Under 'inerrancy,' should a single word be proved inaccurate or false, then the entire structure elaborated under inerrancy falls into question.
***In translating the Hebrew language, the word 'Adam' is not only the name of an individual, but may be 'man' or 'mankind.'

Like other activities of man, the church must adapt if it is to remain relevant. Acceptance of the allegorical nature of revelations in Genesis does not in any way violate reason or science. How could it have served God's purpose to reveal, to people whose language and understanding of Nature did not prepare them to believe, the magnificent story of Earth and its environment science has constructed in recent years? Rather, isn't this revelation a further example of God's wisdom in His dealings with man?

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