Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Biblical Account of Creation

I recently re-read Genesis to clarify the Biblical account of creation. My effort coincided with the discovery of the farthest galaxy last week.

080212-galaxy-art-02

As a person who enjoys learning more about the physical world, I find myself tiring of blanket religious negations of scientific evidence.

I have no doubt that those belonging to the creationist, evolution and intelligent design schools of thought have become so polarised and entrenched in their positions that my interpretation may well be dismissed as invalid by all parties to the debate. I will still endeavour to present scripture that demonstrates that the biblical account can support some aspects of modern thought which traditionalists assume to be at variance with the scriptural view of the universe’s origin.

We read: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep’ (Gen. 1:1,2)

We have no idea of the time span between verses 1 and 2, nor a complete description of the process. Paul states, ‘Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’ (Heb. 11:3) Paul explains the context of ‘framed’ (Gk. kat─ôrtisthai, meaning prepared or fitted, i.e. ordered);  that simply the chaos of the universe required a non-physical unified intervention of supreme power to bring it into an order that could sustain life and promote man’s well-being. The physical universe came into existence and order out of nothing less than the will of God.

Consistent with this idea of initial chaos, physicist Adilson Motter has used rigorous mathematics to prove that this was indeed the state of the early universe. Specifically, the earth, in its infancy, is described by scientists as a rotating cloud of dust, rock and gas. So ‘without form and void’ is an apt description.

Genesis 1: 3 establishes transition of the universe’s energy into the visible spectrum: ‘And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.’ My initial assumption was that surely this is a problem: since light has always existed. However, physicists refer to a specific primordial epoch as the Dark Ages of the Universe.

When the Universe cooled down after the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago, electrons and protons combined to form neutral hydrogen gas. This cool dark gas was the main constituent of the Universe during the so-called Dark Ages, when there were no luminous objects. This phase eventually ended when the first stars formed and their intense ultraviolet radiation slowly made the hydrogen fog transparent again by splitting the hydrogen atoms back into electrons and protons, a process known as reionisation. This epoch in the Universe’s early history lasted from about 150 million to 800 million years after the Big Bang. (Galaxies during the era of reionisation: http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1041a/)

So, ‘Let there be light’ refers to the later period of star formation and intense UV radiation that ends this phase of dark gas by splitting it into positive and negative particles. The sun and solar system eventually form and the rotation of that early accretion of material called Earth gives rise to the first terrestrial day and night:

‘And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.’

The meaning of Genesis 1:6 – 8 has always seemed very specific and yet obscure: ‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day’

The Hebrew word is for firmament means ‘a spreading outwards’. From the standpoint of the earthly observer, the sky is a canopy surrounding the earth in all directions. As the earth cools, water collects forming oceans, on one hand and on the other, spreading outwards or evaporating as vapour and clouds in the sky. A dense atmosphere now surrounds the earth.

Evaporation continues as dry land appears, separating the oceans:

‘And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good’ (Gen. 1: 9 – 10)

Verse 11 is startling. It should be contrasted with the creation of man. It firmly indicates that the earth is permitted to generate and sustain life naturally, rather than requiring a supernatural intervention. It does not say, ‘And God said, Let there be grass, the herb yielding seed…’ Instead it says, Let the earth bring forth…’ We can deduce that God has by the previous events established the conditions for nature to do its work under His providence. It only needs his permission for a natural, rather than supernatural, chain of events to occur. If God had said of childbirth, Let women bring forth children, should we assume that any such offspring are born supernaturally?

The same is said of the oceans: ‘And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.’ With the right conditions for life in place, the waters have the capacity to bring forth all kinds of animals, from simple organisms to fishes, reptiles, amphibians and birds.

In the next verse, the focus turns towards the dry land again, as the agent of land-based mammalian life. So the clear biblical teaching is that creation, beyond the initial chaos appearing out of nothing in Genesis 1:2, is God initiating a sequence of natural events. This does not deny the Big Bang or evolution entirely, it is the ordering of existence from chaos. Although the natural sequence was now complete in six days, scripture gives no detail on the full mechanics of the universe’s origin. We only understand in Genesis 1: 28 – 29 that the whole process is the culmination of a gift of providence towards man.

The only exception to God’s employment of earth and water as intermediate agents is Man. God Himself fashions man from frail dust to bear the imprint of God. He comes to life by supernatural intervention ‘the breath of life’, rather than by natural means.

This distinction as the pinnacle of creation is borne out the reference in Genesis to man’s God-given authority over all other creatures.

In summary, any careful reader of Genesis is left to wonder how the biblical account is so remarkably consistent with the discoveries of modern cosmology. The only plausible explanation for this unique accuracy in such a primitive record is divine inspiration.

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