For this study, all biblical quotations will be from the English Standard Version.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
The first verse of the bible is short and simple, but has a lot of meaning packed into it. Most religions have their "god" or "gods" creating things within space and time which just exist as brute realities.
Here, God creates space and time, along with all the matter in them. Paralleling what science shows us in our modern day.
We have observed powerful evidence that our physical universe traces back to a moment in which the entire fabric of space-time was compressed to one point, prior to which it did not exist. The point then began to expand. This is the beginning of the universe. We call it the big bang. Meaning this verse is referring to the beginning of the universe nearly 14 billion years ago.
So science here has given us powerful confirmation of the truth of the first verse of the bible.
"The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."
So, this verse zooms in and gives us a view of the early earth. There are waters in existence, yet the earth is unformed and dark. I take this to mean that the sun is not yet in existence and the planet earth is not yet formed. Yet it is present, or at least the material that makes it up is.
As for the spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters, it appears God is stirring things up, controlling the forces of nature and moving things towards his aim. This would be my explanation. The part of this verse that describes the spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters has always been a confusing sentence for me. I have reviewed other explanations for this verse, but this is the only one that makes sense to me.
Now, let's talk science for a moment. After the big bang, over the course of millions of years, stars formed. Those stars exploded, releasing the elements they manufactured throughout their lives via a process called nuclear fusion. Initially, there was only the most basic element, hydrogen, in the universe.
So, over many cycles of star life and death, elements and chemical compounds formed. Eventually allowing things like rocks, water, uranium, silicon, gold, iron, oxygen, helium, etc. to form and be abundant in the universe. This allowed the formation of planets. Keep in mind, this took place over billions of years.
In the period of time between the explosion of a star and the formation of new stars and planets, there is a glowing, yet cooling and dimming, nebula. Shortly prior to the formation of new stars, from the perspective of the unformed earth and solar system, things would be like the bible describes here.
As the nebulous cloud collapses, it would be quite dark. There would be no solid matter, yet there would be water vapor and dust.
"And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."
We have already established that the days here are not literal 24-hour calendar days, so whenever "day" appears here, remember I view it as an era.
Now, starting with the frame of reference and conditions established in the prior verse, we see that things suddenly are covered in light. The darkness has been dispelled.
As the light here is said to be the light that separates day from night, it would seem to me logical that we are not talking about "light" in general. We are talking about sunlight.
As the cloud of the early solar system violently collapsed, there came a point at which sustained nuclear fusion became possible in the heart of the cloud. This started a chain reaction which created the sun and allowed it to "burn". At this point, light began to illuminate the cloud of the early solar system.
"And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day."
Here, we see that shortly after the creation of the earth, there is the creation of the "expanse" or the atmosphere (hebrew "Rakia"). Notice the waters were already in existence, but the waters were being divided and distributed. Notice the waters above of the expanse are referred to, above the sky would be the "heavens" or "space". So God separated the waters in above the sky from the waters below the sky.
In order to scientifically unpack these, we are gonna need to look at the next day...
"And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good."
Here we see the creation of the continents and the separation of the seas. Catch the implication here: the waters above were separated from the waters below on day 2, and the waters below are divided into land and seas here on day 3.
To me, this implies that the sphere orbiting the sun we call "Planet Earth" did not exist prior to day two. Because it tells us that what is divided below from what is divided above includes not just the H2O, but the entirety of our planet.
Prior to day two, the earth and the heavens (space) were not separate. Planet earth did not exist. What existed before was simply the raw material that makes up earth.
However, when the earth was formed on day 2 the land and seas were still not separate. The earth was a water world. And the first act of creation on day 3 is to bring land up out of the sea. Dividing land from sea.
It's remarkable that this claim made by the bible is confirmed by modern science. Recent findings have shown that plate tectonics and continents were not in place from the earth's formation. This happened much later, and prior to this, the earth was at least mostly covered in water (if not completely). Incidentally, this was probably true of Mars as well...
"And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day."
Here, God creates plants. Though the words for "tree" and "fruit" here ("‘êṣ" and "pə·rî" respectively) refer to a much broader category of plants then fruit trees. This would include any woody plant that has edible parts. Probably including Carrots, Tomatoes, Berry Bushes, Sugar Cane, Olive Trees, and even Bamboo. The category may be even broader, as I found that "pə·rî" is used other places in the bible to refer simply to foliage.
This is where science really helps us. It was once held in the scientific community that plants appeared along with or even after animals due to the fossil record. The thinking on this is changing rapidly however.
Both chemical and fossil evidence surrounding the Precambrian (the period prior to the first real animals ~540 million years ago) have proved the presence of plants in the sea going back as far as 1.7 billion years ago!
Scientists then continued to cling to the idea that land plants didn't arise until later, after the Cambrian, though plants existed in the sea long before this. A good number of scientists argued that the isotope evidence could not be explained by aquatic plants alone.
However, recent fossil evidence was found of complex, multi-cellular photosynthetic organisms on land going back as far as 1.1 billion years ago. Long prior to the Cambrian. So science has affirmed what the bible has to say.
I make the prediction that as the following years come to pass, we will find evidence of more complex plants prior to the Cambrian. So the biblical data is now in harmony with the science.
"And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day."
You knew this was coming, the elephant in the room. This is the one thing atheists poke fun at in Genesis. The one thing that seems out of order with the current scientific data. It appears that Genesis is claiming that the sun, moon, and stars came after the earth and its plants.
But let's take a closer, more literal look at the text. Here, God caused the great lights to appear in the sky. As what is translated as "let there be" is actually a Hebrew verb "yə-hî" which can mean for something to "appear" or to "become".
Furthermore, I would say that I do believe that God made the lights in the sky after creating plants and the earth. But I think the sun, moon, and stars were already present. Now, that you are likely quite confused, I will attempt to explain.
The frame of reference for the Genesis narrative (and nearly all other biblical narratives) is clearly set as the surface of the earth, not space above the earth. Think of it this way:
I lead you into a room in which the only light, a lamp in the corner, is covered by a sheet. If I say in Hebrew "let there be a lamp" and take off the sheet, I am not saying anything incorrect.
Similarly, when the sky is densely overcast, it is not incorrect to say that there are no lights in the sky. Of course the sources of those lights exist. But they are blocked, and thus nonexistent in the sky. This is what I believe is the nature of Genesis day 4. Early earth had a dense cloud layer which God then lifted. This caused the sun, moon, and stars to appear in the sky.
What does science have to say about this? Is there evidence of this cloud layer? Is this theory widely accepted in the scientific community? Sort of.
There is evidence for increased levels of methane and sulfur-dioxide on the early earth. And this likely did produce a cloud layer as such. Methane is what causes Saturn's moon Titan to be shrouded in a dense cloud layer. Sulfur-Dioxide is what gives planet Venus its cloud layer, which is so dense that despite being significantly closer to the sun than earth, it would be very dark on the surface of Venus.
Though we must keep in mind that the study of the Precambrian epoch is still in its infancy, and the consensus on its history will likely change in the following years. I recommend to take a "wait and see" attitude on this one.
"And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day."
There is a lot of interesting stuff in the fifth day of creation, so lets get into it!
To begin with, God creates "swarms" of sea creatures, the words used here refer to fish and shellfish. This event likely refers to the Cambrian explosion ~540 million years ago, when representatives of nearly every animal phylum appear in virtually no time at all (geologically speaking). This included many arthropods (Shellfish), mollusks, crinoids, jellies, and vertebrate fish (chordates). All or nearly all of these organisms were sea creatures, and are the first real animals that appear in the fossil record.
The explosive nature of the Cambrian explosion cannot possibly be overstated. Popular atheist Richard Dawkins said this regarding the Cambrian explosion:
"It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists."
Wow! That's quite a statement coming from an atheist and strict proponent of mindless evolution!
Now, there's a Hebrew word used, translated as "great sea creatures" here in the ESV. But is translated in other versions as: Whales, Sea Monsters, Dragons, Serpents, Jackals, Crocodiles, and on and on and on, etc.
The word here is "tan·nîm" and its meaning is controversial because of the rarity of its use in the bible. However, it is used in other places in the bible where it clearly refers to both land and aquatic creatures. It is used to refer to serpents and what appear to be crocodiles.
As with all animals and plants referred to in Genesis, "tan·nîm" must be a category of animals. And due to the animals referred too, after I checked every single instance of its use in the entire bible, I firmly believe this refers to a reptile-like group of scuttling scaly animals. Like lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, and maybe amphibians like frogs.
When one takes this definition, it not only harmonizes with the bible, but it fits the fossil record as well. Reptiles appear in the fossil record right between the Cambrian explosion and the first birds. The oldest true reptiles date to ~312 million years ago.
Then the bible describes the creation of the first birds which we know from the fossil record occurred ~160 million years ago.
Now to go slightly off-topic, what about dinosaurs?
Though dinosaurs are commonly thought of as reptiles, many scientists are now reconsidering calling them such. They now know dinosaurs were more bird-like than reptile-like according to relatively recent evidence. They laid hard-shelled oblong eggs, cared for their young, many had hollow bones, many had bird-like hip and foot structures, many had feathers, etc, etc.
I do not however, believe that dinosaurs are mentioned in the bible (including Genesis). The bible is meant to speak to all generations, not just ours, and not just the ancients. Sense the ancients (for the most part) did not know about dinosaurs, and did not understand the concept of extinction, God did not include now extinct animals in the creation narratives of the bible.
Although, it is possible some dromaeosaurid dinosaurs could be included in the creation of birds, as they were basically just weird flightless birds.
Regardless, dinosaurs are pretty much irrelevant here, as they were long extinct by the time humans came around. In fact, due to the timing of the animal creations on day 5 and 6 of Genesis. The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction ~66.5 million years ago which wiped out the dinosaurs would be a good marker for the boundary between day 5 and 6.
One last little factoid before we move on. Although the creation of insects and arachnids are not directly referenced in Genesis, they appear in the fossil record after the Cambrian but before the first reptiles (~396 million years ago for insects. ~430 million years ago for arachnids). So they would also be created on day five.
"And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good."
So here, we have three more types of animal being created. Creeping things (rodents), "Livestock"-type creatures, and "beasts of the earth".
Creeping Things/Rodents are an easy one. They appear in the fossil record ~56 million years ago. Some argue this refers to insects, but typically when referring to insects, it uses the term "swarming creeping thing" or just "swarming thing".
Livestock here seems to refer to hooved, herbivorous mammals. Modern zoology refers to these creatures as Ungulates and they appear ~66 million years ago. It's notable that this is a blink of an eye after the fall of the dinosaurs in terms of geological time (specifically 500,000 years).
"Beasts Of The Earth" seems to refer to carnivorous mammals (based on the terms usage in other parts of scripture). This would be felines, canines, hyenas, bears, racoons, etc. They first appear in the fossil record ~42 million years ago.
Once again, the fossil record easily harmonizes with the biblical account.
Although not referenced in the bible, marsupials appear in the fossil record ~65 million years ago just after the Ungulates or "livestock". Putting their creation on day 6.
Primates are also not referenced in Genesis, but they appear in the fossil record ~55 million years ago along with the rodents. They are then also created on day 6.
"Hominids" or bipedal primates (like neanderthals, denisovans, and homo erectus) are not referenced for the same reason as why dinosaurs are not referenced. They are extinct and were unknown to ancient people. God explaining this to them would be pointless. But for the sake of completion the first bipedal primates appear ~5 million years ago. (Possibly to prepare the earth for humans, but that is a story for another time)
"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day."
Finally, God puts his crown jewel on creation, mankind, creating them in his image. He starts with two individuals "Adam" and "Eve" as is expanded upon in Genesis 2.
Personally, I take Michael Heiser's view on the image of God, though I recognize that there are multiple perspectives. Simply put, the view is that the image is not some physical or ethereal reality. Rather, it is a status God puts on us. We are created as his imagers. To rule to earth and care for it. But as we all know, mankind rebelled and instead of caring for the earth, raped and pillaged it. Wiping out species all over the globe and destroying the environment.
Another note here, God says the creation is "very good", not perfect. This is the mistake I feel young-earth creationists make. They claim that with animals dying and fossilizing (like dinosaurs) before Adam and Eve, the earth would not be "very good". I strongly disagree.
We see in the created order that God has elegantly designed ecosystems including carnivores. The creation is "very good". The earth is a beautiful masterpiece of the Lord.
I feel that young-earth creationists miss the elegance of the creation, being caught up in curses and global floods and other nonsense. There is no indication anywhere in the bible that animal death and carnivores are the result of man's sin.
I will include the first few verses of Genesis 2 in this study as well, seeing as they are part of the same "account" that Genesis 1 tells. Next time we will cover the rest of chapter 2 and chapter 3.
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."
One of the points in favor of day-age creationism is found here. There are several indications that the seventh "day" is ongoing much later, even today. Meaning it must be at least thousands of years long. Meaning the "days" cannot be normal 24-hour days.
One such indication is that the closing statement of "evening and morning" cannot be found for the seventh day. Another are statements found in verses like: Hebrews 4:3-5, Psalm 95:7–11, and John 5:16–18.
Besides that, this passage makes sense seeing as God is no longer creating. Adam & Eve were his last creations and he will not create again until evil has been eliminated and he creates the new, perfect heavens and earth, aka...universe. (Revelation 21)
It seems highly possible to me that the creation of the new heavens and earth is essentially, the eighth day of Genesis. It is at least certain that the seventh day ends at some point before this.
In conclusion, I think Genesis chapter 1 harmonizes very well with modern science. I also think young-earth creationists need to refine their views to a massive extent, as they are not only unscientific, but unbiblical.
Thanks for reading!