Genesis 1 for Atheists
When you visit the discussion groups on the net concerning atheists and science-Bible issues the atheists are always claiming that science has proved the Bible wrong. They always cite the young Earth creationist interpretation of Genesis chapter 1 as being absolutely ridiculous. But they never take a look at the old Earth creationist interpretations of Genesis chapter 1. The nicest presentation of Genesis chapter 1 I have ever run into is Reading Genesis One by Rodney Whitefield. His presentation makes a lot of sense and is in accord with modern science. It really shows that the Bible had the science right long before science came along. And I want to present this essay to every atheist I can find and ask them how the Bible got it all right long before science came along. I am sure that their initial reaction will be that they still don't like the Bible but I do want to irritate them with it.
In Whitefield's book he does a detailed study of Old Testament Hebrew and does so by using words and phrases from around the Bible to explain the words and phrases that occur in Genesis chapter 1. In this essay I am not interested in how to interpret the words. In particular, there is the Hebrew word "yom" that is usually interpreted to mean a day but there are times when it means a period of time of unknown length. And then there is also the issue of how much time elapses between the "days". If you want to find out why Whitefield interprets the words the way he does, read his book or get the free material on the book's website. I just want to show that Whitefield's translation is in accord with modern science.
At the moment I'm writing this I am about 4000 miles away from my copy of Whitefield's book and it is not available as an ebook so in most places I will be quoting the New Living Translation (NLT). In these cases the NLT is pretty much the same as Whitefield's translation.
Whitefield's translation of Genesis 1:1-2 is this:
In the beginning God had created the heavens and the Earth. And the Earth had existed unsuitable for human life and empty of human life, and the darkness was on the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God moving over the surface of the water(s).
There are many important items here. First, Whitefield interprets this to mean that the heavens and the Earth were created and so everything is at least temporarily, finished. Afterwards, God goes to work on the planet Earth for six "days". During those 6 "days" that follow, the Earth is modified to make it inhabitable and then the Earth is filled with life. I like to call this creation of the heavens and the Earth "day" zero. YECs claim that this creation of the heavens and the Earth actually takes place on the first "day". Whitefield argues that the YEC position is wrong. So now, in just the first two verses, we have no indication of how long this part of creation took. Creation of the heavens and the Earth could have taken billions of years or seconds or fractions of seconds. We are not given any idea how long it was before God got around to His activities on "day" 1 when He began to modify the Earth.
In these two verses we don't have any mention of the Big Bang however there are small references to the creation of the universe in other parts of the Bible that closely match what is currently known about the universe. One theme in the Bible that matches up with Einstein's theory of general relativity is that in the creation of the universe it wasn't just matter that was created; space and time were created as well. This result brings to mind what God said in other places in the Bible. Here is one of those verses, from Isaiah 40:22 and the New Living Translation (NLT):
22 He is the one who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and makes a tent from them.
"Stretching out the heavens" is exactly the result you get from Einstein's theory of general relativity. Einstein's equation predicted that the universe will be expanding and that at the beginning there was a huge explosion, the Big Bang. At the time Einstein derived his equation, scientists believed in the steady state model of the universe where the universe always existed and so there was no creation at all. To remedy this, Einstein fudged the equation with a "cosmological constant" to avoid the expansion. Later on, when astronomical evidence showed the universe was expanding, Einstein declared his cosmological constant idea to be the biggest blunder he ever made. So you might take these Biblical quotes (poetry is so imprecise!) as an indication that God did exactly what the scientists now believe happened. The heavens (space-time) were stretched out. It then looks like the Bible had it right long before science came along. Was God telling us something about general relativity?
Next, we have that the Earth was dark. In Job 38:8-9 God describes the condition of the early Earth, from the NIV we have this:
8 Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, 9 and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
So it seems the answer for the darkness is thick clouds. Scientists think the Earth had thick clouds in the beginning.
Next, the verses tell us that the Earth was uninhabited and uninhabitable. Science thinks so too. There would have been no oxygen around until plants appear on the Earth.
The final important thing to notice is that the Earth was covered with water. These days, if you could shovel all the land into the oceans, the Earth would be covered by a 1.7 mile layer of water. How did the "ignorant shepherds in the Middle East" know that there was that much water around? It is only relatively recently that scientists have been finding evidence that the Earth was covered with water at one point. See for instance: "When The Earth Dried Out" , "Earlier Water On Earth? Oldest Rock Suggests Hospitable Young Planet" and "Early Earth less 'Hellish' than previously thought.".
For "day" 1 from the NLT we have:
3 Then God said, "Let there be light", and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day" and the darkness "night."
Here, this is interpreted to mean that the cloud cover has lessened to the point where some light from the sun is getting through. Earth now has day and night.
For "day" 2 from the NLT we have:
6 Then God said, "Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth."
The interpretation of this is that the clouds lessened to the point where you can see the horizon.
A lot happens on "day" 3. First we have this from the NLT:
9 Then God said, "Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear." And that is what happened. 10 God called the dry ground "land" and the waters "seas." And God saw that it was good.
In addition to this command in Genesis 1, there is Psalm 104 from the NLT that says:
6 You clothed the earth with floods of water, water that covered even the mountains. 7 At your command, the water fled; at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away. 8 Mountains rose and valleys sank to the levels you decreed. 9 Then you set a firm boundary for the seas, so they would never again cover the earth.
From recent science, we know that molten rock rose from the center of the Earth to form continents and tectonic plates. The plates began to move around and bump into each other and where they bumped they formed mountains (with thunder coming from the earthquakes!). So here in psalm 104 we have a nice poetic description of what happened on the ancient Earth and it was given long before science discovered it. Note that verse 9 is excellent evidence that Noah's flood was NOT a global flood because God said he would never again let the seas cover the Earth.
Also, there is more science to report. One scientist, Tovy Grjebine, has speculated that initially the whole Earth was covered with water. (See: "The moon as the origin of the Earth's continents" and "The Moon as Cause of the Formation of Earth's Continents: Complementary Elements") Grjebine says that if the moon was in a geosynchronous orbit around the Earth (meaning the moon was stuck in one place in the sky, like today's communication satellites), the first continent formed on the side of the Earth facing the moon. (Think about how the moon produces tides in the ocean.) In addition, Grjebine says this about the lighter elements that rose to the surface of the Earth:
These elements were deposited in the area facing the Moon for several reasons, and a single continent was formed. Its level continuously matched the sea level, so the continent was formed under shallow water.
So we have tectonic plates and continents forming. How would those "ignorant shepherds in the Middle East" know about that?
Next on "day" 3 we have the issue of plants:
11 Then God said, "Let the land sprout with vegetation -- every sort of seed-bearing plant, and trees that grow seed-bearing fruit. These seeds will then produce the kinds of plants and trees from which they came." And that is what happened. 12 The land produced vegetation -- all sorts of seed-bearing plants, and trees with seed-bearing fruit. Their seeds produced plants and trees of the same kind.
The first odd thing about the YEC interpretation is that in one "day" the plants grew up and fruit trees had fruit. This is a lot to expect in one day! Things just don't grow that fast. The second odd thing about this is that in the YEC interpretation, every sort of plant came into being on this "day". Science says that fruit trees did not appear on Earth until fairly late in Earth's history. Whitefield shows that there is a Hebrew word involved that can be interpreted as "and it was so", meaning it all happened at once on that "day". Or, Whitefield shows how in a different place in the Bible, the word was translated as "and so it came to pass", meaning that over a long period of time things happened. So here in Genesis 1 that key word should be interpreted to mean that plants started appearing on "day" 3 but they will be appearing on the following days as well. This removes the problem.
One more thing about plants. Notice that the Bible mentions that the LAND produced plants. Conventional thinking has always been that plants started in the ocean and then moved to land. But then there is this: Researchers claim first plants DIDN'T come from the sea and lived on land hundreds of millions of years earlier than thought. So it may well turn out that the Bible beat science here too.
For "day" 4 from the NLT:
14 Then God said, "Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them mark off the seasons, days, and years. 15 Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth." And that is what happened. 16 God made two great lights, the larger one to govern the day, and the smaller one to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set these lights in the sky to light the earth, 18 to govern the day and night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
YECs claim that the sun, moon and stars were created on this day. The critics then ask where the light was coming from to grow the plants on "day" 3? Whitefield explains why this YEC interpretation is wrong. He explains that the correct interpretation is that the sun, moon and stars started to appear at this time because the atmosphere was clearing up as the Earth cooled off.
"Day" 5 and the beginning of "day" 6 are unremarkable: various animals are created. This makes sense, animals must come after plants because animals depend on plants for food. But then on "day" 6, people are created. Christians usually say that Adam and Eve were real people who lived 6000 years ago and they were the first people on Earth. Science says that humans go back in time around 200,000 years. So there seems to be a real problem here. The usual old Earth creationist explanation, and the one that Whitefield endorses, is that Adam and Eve were the first humans to have souls. Humans before Adam and Eve were missing this vital spiritual component and so they would not be fully human like people are today. So, in this way, Adam and Eve can still be the first fully human human beings on planet Earth.
It is interesting to compare Genesis 1 with other creation myths. For instance, there is Norse mythology. You can find a summary of the Norse creation myth in a little article on the net: The Creation of the Cosmos by Daniel McCoy. You really should read it RIGHT NOW. It is very remarkably different from Genesis 1. For instance there is this going on when some fire meets some ice:
Amid the hissing and sputtering, the fire melted the ice, and the drops formed themselves into Ymir, the first of the godlike giants. Ymir was a hermaphrodite and could reproduce asexually; when he sweated, more giants were born.
So here, from plain water, a giant magically emerges. Then the drops of sweat from the giant magically turn into more giants. Later on:
Odin and his brothers slew Ymir and set about constructing the world from his corpse. They fashioned the oceans from his blood, the soil from his skin and muscles, vegetation from his hair, clouds from his brains, and the sky from his skull.
The gods eventually formed the first man and woman, Ask and Embla, from two tree trunks, and built a fence around their dwelling-place, Midgard, to protect them from the giants.
McCoy goes on to analyze it and compare it with myths from other cultures. A key characteristic of the Norse and other creation myths is that life and gods can magically appear from what we know today is inanimate matter. These creation myths say that inside the matter there are spirits. It is what is called animism. Then McCoy points out that Genesis 1 has the first description of creation where the matter in the world is inert. It has no spiritual properties that enable it to turn into something else. With the rest of the world thinking that matter is magical, how is it that the Israelites came up with something entirely different? This idea helped make modern science possible.
In ancient times, when Genesis 1 was being written, the cultures around the Middle East and indeed around the whole world were worshiping the sun, the moon, the stars, the trees and so on because they thought they were gods and if people pleased these gods, these gods could do them some favors. Humans in that era even carved wood into the shape of things and worshiped the things. And they made idols of gold and silver and they worshiped them because they thought there were gods inside that could help them with their lives. Christian and Jewish theologians always point out that Genesis 1 is a great denunciation of these beliefs. Genesis 1 is telling people that the sun, moon, stars, trees and man-made idols are just things - NOT GODS. This is a really important message to get from Genesis 1. If you check out the history of the Israelites, you'll find that it took God quite a long time to get the Israelites to give up worshiping idols.
Now in modern times we still have people who think like the animists. They believe that drops of water from the pre-biotic soup can magically turn into a living cell. For that matter they believe that drops of water turned into human beings! There is no evidence there ever was a pre-biotic soup and no reason to even think that there could even have been one. Even if there was one, the water to life hypothesis is so unlikely it needs to be called impossible. Also, today, when you ask an atheist why they believe there was a pre-biotic soup that turned into a living cell they will tell you that the fact that there is a living cell now, proves that there was a pre-biotic soup long ago. Way back when, if you asked a Norseman why he believed there were gods that changed trees into people, the old Norseman would say that the fact that there are people proves that there must be gods who turned turned trees into people. On a slightly different subject, these days, there are people who work with silicon circuits and computer programs and think the silicon circuits can turn into conscious beings to help people just as ancient people thought an idol made of wood, silver or gold could be conscious and have magical powers that could help them. And so in modern times we have the same irrational thinking coming from people who claim to be modern, rational and scientific. It goes to show how hard it is for people to get rid of their primitive, superstitious nature.
Again, the point of this essay is to show how exactly right Genesis 1 is when it is interpreted from the old Earth creationist approach. If you can find any creation myths from other cultures that manage to get anywhere close to the results in Genesis 1 AND SCIENCE, please let me know. If you can't find a creation myth that comes close to Genesis 1 AND SCIENCE, please explain how "ignorant shepherds in the Middle East" knew so much about the Earth thousands of years before science came along.