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Premises and Focus
I believe that Scripture is primarily about Christ (Luke 24:25-27). As such, it’s focus in narratives, poetry, parables, or any other genre, is fundamentally Christological. Even in the historical narratives and places where Scripture touches on the universe, there are types of Christ (Gal. 4:24). However, such allegory or typology does not negate the reality and truthfulness of historical narratives or scientific description. While God certainly lisps to us, speaking in ways we can comprehend, He is the God of truth and will always speak the truth.
Therefore, I have as a fundamental premise that where the Bible touches on science or history in a straightforward manner (excluding figures of speech and hyperbole) it will agree with the record of nature. When we interpret both Scripture and nature correctly, in such cases, we will find concord.
My focus in this article is on the concord between science and Scripture in the creation account. While I believe God’s primary purpose was theological (the Egyptian and Canaanite gods aren’t God) and Christological (by typology) that is for another time. Here I will explain why I believe Genesis 1 agrees with our findings from creation on the development of our planet.
Thesis and Reasoning
The creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:4 is compatible with the scientific record of the development of Planet Earth and its lifeforms. When the text is read from the vantage point of Earth’s surface and from a Day-Age understanding, the two records agree. They each supply details not in the other and form a coherent picture of Earth’s early history. This is important for defending the Bible as being from God.
First, where one is standing in relation to an event affects how an event is described. The proper vantage point for the six creation days is the surface of the earth looking up. As both Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer and Astrophysicist Hugh Ross have pointed out, the vantage point for the Genesis 1 creation account starts with the whole cosmos in verse 1 and switches in verse 2 to the surface of the earth. The observer must be looking up from earth’s surface to see the Spirit of God hovering above. From then on, the events of the creation days relate to the Earth from the perspective of a person on its surface and should be read from that point of observation.
Second, there are three literal definitions of the word יוֹם (yom). These are: all of the daylight hours, the period from sunset to sunset, and a long but definite period of time. Inasmuch as the third and sixth creation days include events which could not have happened in 12-24 hours, the most reasonable literal definition is an epoch- a long, fixed period of time.
On the third creation day, the plants are said to have grown up out of the ground including those bearing seed (1:11-12). This means the plants grew from seed stage to flowering stage, which takes more than a day. On the sixth day, the trees of the Garden in Eden grew normally (2:9), the man was created (2:7-8), and man named the animals (2:20). These things, if we are interpreting the text as conveying history, could only without undue conjecture have happened if the word יוֹם is being used to mean an epoch.
Now, believing that creation is real and testifies to God (Romans 1:18-20), we would expect if Genesis 1 is history that it will match the record of nature. Otherwise, men could hardly be held accountable for not recognizing the Creator if nature does not speak to Him clearly and truthfully! We would therefore expect that nature would show certain things in its record of early Earth. We would not necessarily need to see every event in Genesis in the natural record, since the Scripture’s main focus is not scientific description. A very brief account is clearly an overview, not a finely detailed description.
So we would expect to see the events revealed in nature to appear in the order and way mentioned in Scripture. Each day is mentioned one before the other and the first six are opened and closed with an “evening and morning”. This evening and morning does not mean the periods of a twenty four-hour day, but rather an opening and a closing to the day. This can be seen from the plants growing on the third day and a garden being planted and cultivated on the sixth day, which are not events which can be contained within twenty four hours.
Furthermore, as each day’s events builds off the events of the previous day, it is doubtful that they are overlapping. They are in chronological order and likely each would be expected to close before the next begins.
The Two Records
The scientific record shows that the primordial Earth, due to its mass would have had a thicker atmosphere than Venus’ current atmosphere. It would have therefore been too dark for the sunlight to get through the clouds and all someone standing on the surface would see would be darkness. Furthermore, there is evidence that the early Earth was entirely enveloped in water, just as both Genesis 1:2 and Psalm 104:5-6 indicate.
Thus, there is no contradiction between Genesis’ and nature’s records of early Earth. There also is no reason, given the proper vantage point for the creation account, to see a conflict between Scripture and the natural record of the sun existing before our planet. Given a vantage point from the surface of the earth, the sun may well have existed according to Genesis; it simply was not visible from the surface.
After some time, approximately 40 million years after Earth formed, the skies finally cleared enough for the light to break through. This occurred through an extraordinary event popularly known as the Earth-Moon Collision. A planet about the size of Mars collided with Earth. From this collision, Earth lost its early atmosphere, gained a large amount of mass, and its Moon was formed. Light was now present on Earth’s surface- the location where God commanded for there to be light. This Genesis calls the events of the first day.
To this point, all of Earth’s water was on its surface. After a new, post-collision, atmosphere formed, the planetary environment changed. Over millions of years, as the new atmosphere formed, so did the water cycle. The waters were now above and below the sky. This period of atmospheric development is what the Bible calls the second day.
Now Earth was covered in a giant ocean, with a primitive atmosphere and water cycle. According to the record of nature, the first permanent land masses formed about 3.3-2.7 billion years ago, after the forming of the water cycle. This happened at the beginning of the third creation day.
In spite of plants not fossilizing well, evidence from fossils and atmospheric changes indicate land plants appeared around 1.2-1.0 billion years ago. This was a few hundred million years after the first continents and prior to the first animals, which are said to appear on the fifth creation day. Thus, we see an excellent correspondence between what can be gathered from nature and Scripture concerning what the latter calls the third creation day.
When the first land plants appeared, the atmosphere of the Earth was apparently translucent. Light came through but the sun, moon, and stars would not have been distinctly visible from Earth’s surface. While insufficient data exists to say when the transition from a translucent to a transparent atmosphere took place, it must have been between 2.65 billion years ago (when we know it was hazy) and 543 million years ago when the Cambrian Explosion happened. It most likely happened very slowly. Inasmuch as animals need to know the location of the sun and moon to regulate their biological clocks, the sky must have cleared before the animals were created.
Therefore, while the scientific data is fuzzy, nature and Scripture agree that the sun and moon became visible on Earth’s surface before the appearance of animals. This is called the fourth creation day.
The next event which the natural record reveals is the Cambrian Explosion. This event conveniently coincided with the appearance of plankton as a food supply for the animals that appeared therein. About 543 million years ago, most animal phyla appeared suddenly in the seas. These first animals were created at the beginning of the fifth day (Genesis 1:20-23).
Skipping over the first land animals, reptiles, therapsids, and dinosaurs, the fifth creation day closes with the creation of birds (Genesis 1:20-23). Around 165-150 million years ago the first birds appear in the fossil record. Thus, on the fifth creation day, Scripture agrees with science. First sea animals and later birds appeared on Earth.
The three kinds of mammals mentioned as being created on Day 6 are long-legged herbivores, large wild mammals, and rodents. The animals falling into these categories are the Boreoeutheria clade. They first appear in the fossil record about 65 million years ago, shortly after the Cretaceous period ended. These mammals came after birds according to both nature and Scripture.
The first clear record of man from nature is around 70,000 years ago, although DNA suggests man originated around 100,000 to 150,000 years ago. DNA research has also revealed that all humans are descended from a single male and a single female living roughly around the same time. This is in amazing agreement with Genesis creation account, which speaks of man’s creation as a recent event occurring at the close of the sixth day. Man in both the archaeological record and Scripture appears suddenly and after all other creatures.
To conclude, when carefully interpreted, nature and Scripture agree on the creation. They both reveal the same ordered progression of development and life on planet Earth. The Genesis creation account is indeed in harmony with the scientific record of Earth development, both in terms of its environment and the life forms dwelling upon it.
Both records provide details not given in the other. Nature tells us of ancient bacteria before the continents existed and of therapsids and dinosaurs, while Scripture passes these by. Scripture tells us of Who created the Earth, fashioned it, and made the living creatures on it. But where the two meet, they are in accord with one another.
Since the Genesis creation account, read with the right point of view and understanding of the word יוֹם, presents the same order of events as nature, there is no reason to doubt its historical character. Rather than being a liability to defending the truth of the Bible, Genesis 1 is compatible with science and can be used to defend the supernatural origin of Scripture.
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