Genesis 1 is not a science text. The Bible is best thought of as a history book. Genesis 1, and possibly portions of Job, deal with the creation story. Genesis 1 gives us a straightforward historical narrative of the steps God took in forming and filling the earth over a six “day” period. I do not hold to a YEC viewpoint and consider the Hebrew word ‘yom’ should be translated as “epoch,” meaning a long period of time.
The real key to interpreting Genesis 1 correctly is make a change from the frame of reference a modern reader would assume to the frame of reference an ancient reader would assume. This is critical. Once that change is made, everything else falls into place. A modern reader knows all about God and his throne room in heaven. If you take the frame of reference in Genesis 1 to be heaven, you will misunderstand it. The earliest readers would have assumed the frame of reference is the surface of earth because that is where they live. When Genesis 1 is read in that light, it matches modern science. Is that a coincidence or intentional?
What you are about to read is not forcing the text at all. Neither am I claiming the human author knew more about science than is reasonable to believe. I am simply taking into account that Scripture is inspired by God. That is, God uses human authors to write a true account. I fully affirm authorial intent when interpreting any document. When interpreting the Bible, there are two authors. You must consider the fact the divine author may know more than the human author.
As the human author, who I take to be Moses, is writing Genesis 1, he thinks he’s writing a narrative about natural history. And so he is. But he has no idea than scientists in the future will be able to affirm what he has written. But God knows.
Physics professor Erica Carlson has said “The Bible is far more accurate scientifically than any human author could have made it.” I agree with her. The agreement with science cannot be explained by coincidence or lucky guesses. There are too many of them. Let’s count them up.
Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Until early in the 20th century, scientists almost universally believed the universe was eternal into the past. Then the Big Bang was discovered. NASA scientist Robert Jastrow wrote a compelling history of science book, God and the Astronomers, on the discovery of the Big Bang. Jastrow documented the reactions of scientists who were shocked to learn that the Bible had been right about the universe having a beginning and they had been wrong. Is it a coincidence that the Bible got it right? This is #1.
Genesis 1:2 - The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
Here the authors, human and divine, give us the initial conditions for what follows. Scientifically minded people love to know the initial conditions. Also, note that the first readers of this book would assume that the frame of reference would be where they live, the surface of earth. Modern readers, because of our more complete knowledge of God and his residence in heaven, tend to think the frame of reference is heaven - that this passage is describing events from somewhere else looking down on earth. This is wrong. The initial conditions of earth, that is empty of life, smooth because it is covered by water and there is no light reaching the surface. Indeed, this is what modern science tell us.
“At this stage the surface of the Earth is covered by a super-liquidus magma ocean.”
After the moon-forming impact, the proto-atmosphere is believed to have held vast amounts of sunlight absorbing H20, CO, CO2 along with heavier particulate matter thrown into the atmosphere by the impact known as silicate vapor, making the atmosphere opaque and the surface of the earth dark.
Is it a coincidence that the Bible got it right that the early earth was dark and covered with water? Was this just a lucky guess by the human author of Genesis? Would you have guessed that the early earth was dark and covered with water?
Am I saying the Bible is a science text? Of course not. If it was, then it would have given us additional information about the temperature of the early earth ocean. It would have described why the surface of the earth was dark. We cannot expect precision from the text because that isn’t the purpose of the authors. But the statements made are accurate when understood properly. The initial conditions of proto-earth is #2.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Genesis 1:3-5
Modern science tells us that sun began to shine before planet earth was formed. These verses are fully in line with that truth. This is not the first creation of light. Rather, this is the first time light has begun to shine on the surface of earth. These verses can be understood as correlating to the atmosphere turning from opaque to translucent. I don’t need to provide a science paper here. We know this must have happened because our atmosphere was opaque and not it isn’t. And these verses fit perfectly with science, because at this point in the creation week the earth was already spinning and the sun was already shining. The appearance of light, night and day all come at the same time simply because the atmosphere is no longer opaque. This would be coincidence #3.
6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. Genesis 1:6-8
Again, we know that proto earth had a huge amount of atmospheric water vapor.
“The atmosphere near the close of accretion is composed of 200 ∼ 300 bars of H2 and H2O, and several tens of bars of CO and CO2.”
I believe Hugh Ross identifies this as the beginning of the water cycle. I don’t think that’s right, because I take it that the water cycle as we know it didn’t really begin until Noah’s time. But I ask you, if you didn’t have Genesis 1 or science to tell you this, would you have guessed that early earth had such massive amounts of atmospheric water vapor? I would not. This is #4.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so.12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. 13 There was evening and there was morning, a third day. Genesis 1:9-13
Here we have the formation of land masses and the earth immediately began to produce vegetation. And again, the order is important. We had a planet that was dark and covered in water. Then it got sunlight. Then it got a landmass that so the land could grow vegetation. We don’t expect the human author of Genesis to know about photosynthesis, but the divine author certainly knew that sunlight had to come before vegetation. It wouldn’t work if the order were reversed. Coincidence #5.
14 Then 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; 15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. 17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. 19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. Genesis 1:14-19
Here the atmosphere changed from translucent to transparent. While daylight was getting through, the sun, moon and stars were not clearly visible until the atmosphere became transparent. The author notes that now that the moon and stars are visible, they would be helpful for creating a calendar - “for signs and seasons and for days and years.” God is not creating the sun, moon and stars here. That would be the YEC interpretation of the passage and certainly doesn’t fit what we know from science at all. The passage is not claiming that the moon is a light source. Genesis is not a science text and would not make such a claim. Genesis uses everyday language just as we do when we sing about “the light of the silvery moon.”
20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” 21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
Here God is giving life to the smallest and least complex life starting in the sea up to larger sea creatures and birds. Now I suppose it is possible for someone to argue that some of these creatures may be out of order, but the evidence isn’t overwhelming to my mind. The important thing is that the vegetation came before animals. If it didn’t, animals wouldn’t have anything to eat. Coincidence #6.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:24-31
During the final creation epoch, God created the higher animals and mankind. Interestingly, science tells us that no new animals have arrived on the scene since the appearance of man. God rested from his creative works. Could you have predicted that God had stopped his creative works? Coincidence #7.
What is the Bayesian probability all of these statements are coincidentally accurate?
I know that Hugh Ross would draw out more from the text than I did, but this is enough to prove the point. I have to agree with Dr. Carlson. Genesis 1 is far more accurate scientifically than any human author could have made it.