The creation account, as presented to us in the first chapter of Genesis, is highly used by the Christian community in debate against the idea of the Darwinian model of evolution. Though I do believe that the Biblical account of creation is without fault, I also believe that our postmodern uses for the creation account hinder most of us from seeing its true purpose. Perhaps the dogma we find ourselves holding on to causes us to bring up such a defense that we fail to learn and grow from the very Word of God that was written to convict us. It is good to ask how God might have chosen to create the world, but we must not forget, in our search for answers, to ask why. Here are the thoughts I had as I walked through the Genesis account of creation.
In the beginning…
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” –Genesis 1:1 ESV
It seems to me that much insight can be gained from the three opening words of God’s Holy Bible, “In the beginning.” If there was indeed a beginning, then there must have been a point at which time was brought into existence; otherwise a strict beginning would be an obvious impossibility. Even by secular standards, the origination of the universe, as outlined by the popular “Big Bang” model suggests that time began to exist: since time (constant not relative) is a natural, physical element that is determined by physical law; which could not have existed before nature because no matter existed.
If time had its beginning at the creation of the world, then it should be obvious to us as human beings that God, the Creator, operates outside of time. I have often wondered how it is that a God who sent His only Son that man might once again participate in eternal fellowship with Him can seem so distant. Perhaps this is because God is outside of time while we are bound by it. I can see how necessary it might be for a God, who is distant, to operate as three agents: allowing the Holy Spirit and the Son to operate within the bounds of time while God the Father maintains His authority over time.
This might also shed some light on the raging feud between proponents of predestination and supporters of foreknowledge. If God is outside of time, is He not be able to see all of time and therefore know the events in what we perceive as the future?
Since the invention of time, which itself cannot contain God, both the heavens and the earth have existed because God created them “in the beginning”. The heavens, being plural in the English translations, seem in all probability to refer to everything outside of Earth’s atmosphere and not to the place we call Heaven. If this is the case, then we do not see the place, Heaven or Paradise, anywhere in the creation account. Perhaps this is our very first indication that God never intended for humanity to be overly concerned with a future existence in a place called Heaven. It seems in all situations, both the Old Testament and the New Testament Church was, and is, encouraged to live in the present.
“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.” –Genesis 1:2 ESV
At its origin, the earth was without form and contained nothing. Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was also over the surface of the deep.
According to the most popular scientific theories, the early earth was completely devoid of both water and oxygen. The earth would have been covered in hot rock and molten lava for suposedly almost a billion years. There are some theories that suggest Earth could have been covered in water at its origin, but according to the accepted model, water would not have persisted in liquid form until about 3.8 billion years ago (according to radiocarbon dating).
This model creates for us an environment, which is incredibly thick. When the earth cooled enough (supposedly 3.8 billion years ago), rain began to fall. Since it did not evaporate as quickly, it began to collect on the surface of the earth. The gravity of the earth would have undoubtedly caused the earth to cool with a mostly flat surface and, if this were the case, water would have completely covered the earth when it did fall.
This would have been the time, at least according to the scientific model, that God’s Spirit hovered over the surface of the waters of the earth. Some will argue that following the scientific model here argues against the literal six day creation as presented in the Biblical account, but we are not given an account of time in Genesis until v.3, the first day.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” –Genesis 1:3 ESV
I can only imagine how this might have looked. As it was raining God’s Spirit, hovering over the water that had already fallen, declares for light to be revealed to the surface of the world. As God declared, the atmosphere became thin enough to allow light for the very first time on Earth’s surface.
Considering Genesis 1:1, it is possible to conclude that the “heavens” were created all at once. The second verse seems to narrow the story’s perspective to the surface of the earth.
According to a more traditional consensus, God Himself was the light that was introduced (since stars had not yet been created). This is particularly difficult to believe because in the second verse, the Spirit of God was over the surface of the earth while the earth only knew darkness. To view light this way creates a contradiction where one does not need to exist and truth simply cannot exist where contradictions are apparent.
If the perspective of the story was indeed narrowed to the surface of the earth, we can conclude that light simply became visible (though it was not obvious where or what the light source was) through the thinning atmosphere.
As soon as light touched the surface of the earth, days were measurable, and thus, the first day began: evening to morning.
“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.” –Genesis 1:4-5 ESV
God saw that light was good and set it apart from darkness. If God’s words, “Let there be…” are words of revelation, then we can presume that, when light shown through to the surface of the earth, one side of the earth received light while the other received darkness. V.4 does not seem to give a relative time (before or after) with which God separated the light from the darkness. This all took place on the first day and quite possibly at the exact same time.
If we are to interpret the creation account in this way, we can also conjecture that God used the natural laws He created as a tool to create the world, as Adam knew it. This also means that God uses natural processes to sustain the world, even after it was corrupted by sin. If this is the case, then God is the sole producer of all natural phenomena. This declares much more evidently God’s sovereignty and suggests that humanity need not look to the supernatural to discover God. He reveals Himself in and through His own creation.
“And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let is 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 (or sky). And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” –Genesis 1:6-8 ESV
I have often wondered how amazing it would be to see the early atmosphere of the earth. With the outstanding mental images I received as a child, was a world in which one could look up into the sky and see an ocean of water flowing overhead. As stupendous as this would be, it seems much more probable that the water, which bordered the upper edge of the sky, was contained simply within clouds.
If we are to interpret the creation story as God using natural law as a tool, then we must claim that gravity was also used. If God used gravity to create the earth, why would He form an ocean at the top of Earth’s atmosphere?
It would be much more likely that God cleared the rain or receded the clouds upward as rain fell to separate water above (clouds) from water below (seas). After all, even today most clouds are located in the uppermost part of the troposphere (the part of Earth’s atmosphere directly surrounding Earth).
“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.” -Genesis 1:9-10 ESV
Dry ground began to appear on the surface of the earth. In all practicality, this could not have taken long and would have happened soon after the earth was covered in water. Hot molten rock would still have been moving under the cooled surface. That heat and pressure would have undoubtedly caused volcanoes to erupt, plates to shift and the ground to become uneven creating crevices for the oceans and also creating several migrating landmasses. The time increment suggested by the unfolding events thus far seem to indicate that each day simply cannot symbolize a billion-year period of time. As indicated by the events described, the ‘days’ presented in the Biblical account must be literal days, even if they were not 24-hour days.
“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.” –Genesis 1:11-13 ESV
It is particularly difficult for me to believe that organisms, even those as simple as plants, could evolve from the primordial slime of the early earth. I also do not see how so many others could come to such a conclusion. Life is distinguished from all other forms of creation, because, as far as we know, natural processes simply cannot create life. There must be a supernatural force enabling its origin.
At this time, only autotrophs could exist because of the lack of oxygen within Earth’s atmosphere. The humid environment would have been perfect for plant life to thrive. It only makes sense that God would choose to create plants first. Since plants have the characteristics of life, it also makes sense that God would create them more directly. God is intimate with His creation. We can also see that God created these plants according to their kinds. This simply means that there would naturally be room for change according to postmodern ideas (natural selection, speciation, etc…).
“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.” –Genesis 1:14-19 ESV
Celestial bodies outside of Earth’s atmosphere became visible as the atmosphere cleared. God gave them the authority to govern the day and the night. This too would support the revelatory nature of God’s command, “Let there be…” These celestial bodies had to exist before this command because they were created to separate light from darkness (which we see in v. 4: the first day).
“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.” –Genesis 1:20-23 ESV
God made it possible for these organisms to exist by first creating seed-bearing plants. After the earth can sustain marine life, God creates it and commands it to reproduce.
“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.” –Genesis 1:24-25 ESV
The fact that God says, “Let the land produce,” or “Let the earth bring forth,” might suggest that evolution from a single cell was possible according to the Biblical account of creation. However, it seems more plausible, with the rapid nature of the account, that God was actually forming these various types of animals out of the land, as He did with humanity. There seems to be a significant amount of evidence supporting Darwinian evolution (both micro and macro) in the secular realm of study today. The fact that animals were created according to their kinds can account for this. There is room for change, but I am not convinced that random mutation and natural selection can account for the complexity of life on this planet.
“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.” –Genesis 1:26-27
Within the same day that God created all other animal-like creatures, He also created human kind. This might attest to the idea that humanity is considered as a part of the animal kingdom, but also the single most advanced “kind” on the face of the planet.
This is the only time in the creation account where we read that God actually commanded Himself to create. This is the very first idea that distinguishes mankind from the rest of creation. So far, everything that God has created, despite how He chose to do so, was in preparation for the existence of God’s prized. In the same command, that God gave Himself, we see God’s pluralistic nature, as contrasted with His singular nature in v. 27. It is not revealed, as of yet, how many ‘persons’ make up the God entity.
Today, humanity as a whole searches for an answer to the question, “Does God exist?” We tell ourselves that we would believe in God if He would only reveal Himself to us or do something supernatural in our lives. In my short time here on Earth, I have witnessed the undeniable effects that time has on the natural world. Without proper upkeep, it seems to fall apart. This is why proper health care is necessary for people to live long lives. Despite the observations that tell us the world we live in is trapped in a viscous cycle of digression, it still thrives and enables humanity to thrive. Perhaps the greatest proof, and one of the greatest supernatural phenomena, is the existence of human kind. It can be nothing less than a miracle that we began to exist and are now sustained. We are told in vv.26-27 that we were made in God’s image, in His likeness. In a world where science looks for supernatural proof, as contradictory as that is, we are missing the most obvious proof of God, according to God, and that is man. Since we were created in God’s image, then it also seems possible to look at the nature of human kind, and come to know God more. Though, when doing this we must be careful not to mistake the corruption in us (caused by sin) as a characteristic of God.
God chose to give us authority over the rest of His creation, but did not give us authority over ourselves.
“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.” –Genesis 1:28-30 ESV
To procreate is, since we are created in God’s image and God’s greatest act is creation, to be like God in the most intimate way. Procreation also comes with a commitment, formally made in marriage and embodied by God’s commitment to His creation through Jesus Christ.
God also gave every creature on the earth, including mankind, vegetation as food. It seems that at humanity’s beginning, only the vegetation of the earth was consumed for food.
“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. 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.” –Genesis 1:31-2:2 ESV
I have heard it argued that God, by saying His creation was only “good” inferred that His own creation was not perfect. This contradicts the idea that God Himself is perfect. How can a perfect being create anything less than perfection? In fact, by definition God must be infinitely good (perfect) or infinitely bad (imperfect). If God is God, then He is the standard for perfection or goodness. Since God is the standard, He must be infinitely good (perfect). Since God must be infinitely good, then His measurement of good must also be infinite. So, when God measures His creation and calls it good, it must be to an infinite degree. God creating the universe perfect is also supported in the opening verses of chapter 2: “The heavens and the earth were completed” (v.1), and, “God had finished the work He had been doing” (v.2). If God did not create the world perfect, then man could not have fallen from perfection and there would also be no real need for a redeemer.
After creating a perfect world, God set apart a day for rest: the last day of the week. It seems that God’s blessing on this particular day only acted inasmuch as to set it apart, or distinguish it, from all other days. Perhaps God’s blessing in our lives means something similar: to distinguish us, to set us apart, to make us holy.
Though, as Christians, we must believe that the creation account presented t us in Genesis is accurate, we must realize that it serves a relevant purpose for our lives. By looking at the Genesis account and asking whether it supports or denies Darwinian evolution, or how God created the world, or how much time passed as God created the world; we cause ourselves to miss the purpose of this written account. That is to say that God, from the beginning of time, has treasured humanity over all else and that He has both a plan and a purpose for each individual and for the human community as a whole.
The Genesis account seems to challenge the polytheistic, henotheistic, and pantheistic claims of other ancient creation narratives. It asserts the unity and sovereignty of the only God. The fact that other creation narratives existed before the Genesis account attests to the legitimacy of the claim for creation, however that creation was brought about.