"Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind." - Albert Einstein, 1941
Genesis, in the first chapter of the Old Testament, is the biblical story of the creation of Earth and life and tells the story in the form of a seven-day period. This essay is not about the seven days (here we will assume that the "days" are allegorical); this is about what Genesis says happened on each of those seven days of creation.
The following explores the possibility of reconciling what's in each of the seven days of creation in Genesis with the prevailing information of contemporary science. I think you may find the results quite astounding.
This is not the first time this has been attempted, but this is a shorter and more readable version.
It has been reviewed by a prominent rabbi and a prominent professor of biological, geological, and earth sciences.
Historians say the Old Testament of the Bible, including Genesis, is an anthology of literature taken from poems, songs, oral stories and ancient scrolls. It was written mostly in Hebrew over many centuries by many people, including Hebrew scholars, various scribes, and others. The religious interpretation, according to the Bible, says Genesis was written by Moses as directed by God. Either way, it was written over 4000 years ago.
Below are listed the seven days of creation, day by day, and what happened according to Genesis in the Old Testament. With each day we examine how it corresponds with current scientific information. In this comparison, the seven days are not important; it is the description of what took place on each day, and in what order, that is relevant.
Genesis and Science: A Comparison
Genesis: (First day) -- 15 billion to 4.5 billion years ago
"In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth."
At some point in the history of time between, 9 and 15 billion years ago, the origins of the universe began. There was absolutely nothing but emptiness, when suddenly an infinitely hot and dense spot called the singularity appeared. From that spot there was an unimaginable gigantic explosion, called the Big Bang, and within less than a fraction of a second, the entire universe was formed. This was the start of everything that exists -- matter, energy, time and every atom that was ever created. The sun and earth itself were estimated to have been formed about 4.5 billion years ago.
This is the accepted scientific explanation for the start of the universe.
But science can't tell us everything. The great mystery is how that hot, dense spot (called the singularity), the first thing in the emptiness, the start of the universe, got there? Science tells that some unimaginable power must have put it there because from it came everything that exists in the universe. Some scientists just say "an unimaginable power" put it there, while others give a name to "that unimaginable power": they call it God. The greatest living astrophysical scientist, Stephen Hawking, says, "Anyone who chooses to believe in a Universal Creator is standing on ground as solid as a scientist who denies Creative Purpose as First Cause. Because of the laws these same scientists have discovered, there is absolutely no way to tell what made it happen. Whatever you choose is an act of pure faith."
So the claim that God created Heaven and Earth matches with science.
Genesis: (First day)
"God said, 'Let there be light.'"
During the Big Bang, electrons caused very small packets of light making the whole universe glow.
The sun was formed 4.5 billion years ago along with the Earth.
So the start of the universe and then the start of the sun and Earth on the first day of Genesis definitely coincide with contemporary science.
Genesis: (Second day) -- 4.5 billion to 3.75 billion years ago
"God said, 'Let there be firmament in the midst of the waters and let it separate the waters from the waters.'"
Water-rich asteroids and protoplanets collided with prehistoric earth, bringing water. Later, gaseous emissions from volcanoes added additional water. This occurred approximately 4.4 billion years ago. Over the next several billion years, as the earth cooled, water vapor began to escape and condense in the earth's early atmosphere. Clouds formed and enormous amounts of water fell on the earth. The waters were separated, water on earth and water in the atmosphere. So day two fits with science and is in the correct order.
Genesis: (Third day) -- 3.75 billion years ago
"And God said, 'Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together in one place and let the dry land appear.'"
The beginning of the oceans and the separation of the land mass areas occurred on Earth about 3.75 billion years ago. Again, it fits with science and is in the right order.
Genesis: (Third day)
"And God said, 'Let the earth put forth grass, herbs yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit.'"
This section of Genesis' third day is out of sequence. Plants, grass, and fruit bearing trees, did not appear until after sea creatures. Although microscopic single cell algae (bacteria or archaea microbes) are a plant and appeared at this time, it is not the advanced forms of plant life described in Genesis. Again, the appearance of flora did not take place at this time according to contemporary science.
Genesis: (Fourth day)
"And God said. 'Let there be light in the firmament of Heavens to separate the day from the night.'"
This phrase is confusing because the Sun's creation was earlier, so why is light mentioned here? There is nothing to compare here between Genesis and science. The open question is why light is repeated on day four.
There are a number of theories to explain this. One is by Dr. Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D., a professor of nuclear physics and earth and planetary sciences at MIT who spent five years on the staff of the MIT physics department. He is also a lecturer in science and spirituality. He contends that the sun, the moon, and the stars were already there but that the atmosphere was opaque. With the cooling of the Earth and the rise in atmospheric oxygen, the atmosphere became transparent, and there was light.
Another interesting theory is presented by Dr. Alan Parker, a respected evolutionary biologist and research fellow at Oxford University. He speculates that this second reference to light on day four of Genesis refers to the evolution of vision. If there was no vision, then there was, in a sense, no light. So the lights were "turned on" in the evolution of sight in animals. "To separate day from night" refers to the time before and after sight.
Genesis: (Fifth day) -- 3.5 billion years to 635 million years ago
"And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas...'"
This is exactly what happened. Life began in the sea. The earliest fossils of life, single-celled bacteria, are found in ancient rocks deposited in the oceans 3.5 billion years ago. By 1.2 billion years ago, the first complex multicellular life had evolved. The oldest evidence of full animal life in the oceans comes from about 635 million years ago.
Isn't it incredible that 4000 years ago, ancient man could have conceived that life started in the water?
Genesis: (Fifth day)
"'...and let the birds fly above the earth.'"
According to contemporary science, this is out of sequence. Birds did not appear until later. However, flying insects did appear at this time, and this could be a remote but possible explanation.
Genesis: (Sixth day) -- 250 million to about 6000 years ago
"And God said, 'Let the Earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind; cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kind.'"
This is exactly as science reports: life began in the water and then expanded onto land.
Genesis: (Sixth day)
"Then God created man in his own image ... Male and female created He them ... And God formed man of the dust of the ground ... He took one of Adam's ribs and made a woman."
Nothing in this section resembles science at all. The only correct thing is that man was at the end of the chain of life. One coincidence that has been noted is that just as Adam's rib was used to form another person, Eve, the first life forms, single-cell organisms, divided to form other single-cell organisms. Admittedly, this is a stretch.
Genesis: (Sixth day)
"God said, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth and subdue it and have domination over fish of the sea and over birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the Earth.'"
It is obvious that today, man does have domination over every fish, every bird, and every living thing that moves across the Earth. Genesis was right: man dominates the Earth.
Genesis: (Seventh day)
"So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it, God rested from all the work He had done."
"Blessed and hallowed the seventh day." This has nothing to do with science, but it is relevant in that what Genesis said has been reflected in life. Today all major religions have a holy day to rest: Muslims have Friday, Jews Saturday, and Christians Sunday. Other religions take a day of rest, and even nonbelievers do it. So that matches perfectly with Genesis. Still, many question the idea that God would rest. Why does God have to rest? Again, this is not a scientific question, but it's compelling nonetheless. But why not rest? Christ, Moses, and Mohammad all rested, so why not God?
A review of how the 12 elements of the biblical creation story compare to science.
- Nine are scientifically correct, and just two are in the wrong order: birds and plants.
- One is scientifically wrong: the creation of man.
- Two are not relevant to science -- the hallowed seventh day, and the second mention of light.
When Genesis was written about 4000 years ago, humans were almost universally illiterate. The alphabet was being perfected, writing (not hieroglyphics) was still new, calendars were still not perfected, and books and paper didn't even exist.
But nevertheless, the writers of the Bible somehow figured out that creation occurred first with the universe, then the Earth, then light, then water, then land rising out of the water to separate land and sea, all in the proper order according to contemporary science.
Then, most amazingly of all, these ancient Hebrew scholars and Old Testament writers figured out, in accordance with modern science, that the origins of life started in the water. Scientific information on the subject was not developed until over 3500 years later.
Of course, the religious interpretation has a different answer to these questions. They say that Genesis is correct because when Moses wrote the first four chapters of Genesis, he received the information directly from God. So the creation of Earth and life is as God reported it. If a few things in Genesis are out of order, maybe science will later discover that Genesis was right.
So there you have it, the Bible and science.
The beginnings of earth and life as reported by Genesis correspond very closely with current scientific knowledge.
Did ancient man write Genesis without the help of God?
The answer is yes and no. It's a matter of pure faith and belief.
This essay is not about either point of view. It's about some interesting facts about science and religion.
People with different points of view are very passionate about this subject matter. Respect for each other's point of view is what's important in today's volatile world.