“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. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 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.”
– Genesis 1:1-5, King James Bible
These first words of the Old Testament describe God’s creation of heaven and earth and His introduction of light into the world on the first day of creation. But He wasn’t nearly finished.
On the second day, He separated heaven and earth; he divided the seas and dry land on the third day. He created the sun, the moon and the stars on the fourth day, birds and fish on the fifth day, followed by beast and, finally, man in His image on the sixth and final day. That’s quite a busy week.
But was it really a week?
One of the most hotly debated topics within religious circles is whether the opening lines of Genesis describe six literal 24-hour days or whether the six days of creation have a more flexible meaning that could be more compatible with the fossil record and other scientific discoveries.
In his book, "The Complementary Nature of Science and Christianity," Anglican clergyman Dick Tripp discusses seven different interpretations of Genesis:
- Recent creationism: According to this belief, God created the world in six 24-hour days approximately 6,000 years ago, exactly as it is described in Genesis.
- Creation followed by chaos followed by re-creation: This interpretation postulates that there was a first creation where those animals and plants represented in the fossil record flourished before something went wrong leading to chaos. At this point, God re-created the universe as described in Genesis.
- Stages of creation revealed in six days: This theory holds that God revealed the truth of creation to someone, possibly Moses, over six days, using the structure of ancient clay tablets as evidence.
- God spoke his words of creation over six days: This belief states that God spoke His intentions for creation over six days. This rests on the Biblical principle that when God has foreordained something, the Bible often reads as though it has already happened.
- The six days of creation actually represent unspecified ages over which the work of creation occurred: This belief helps bring the Biblical story of creation into step with the fossil record and scientific discoveries regarding evolution.
- Prophetic poetry: This theory states that Genesis should not be read as a literal explanation of creation but rather a statement that uses poetic style to disprove other creation stories and state definitively that God created the world.
- Symbolic interpretation: This interpretation connects the events of creation with parts of the New Testament.
All of these theories have their intrigue, and if you are interested in learning more about them, you can read an excerpt of the book online. Personally, I found the idea of a re-creation following an original creation fascinating, as it attempts to bring the fossil record and Biblical literalism into alignment.
However, the two theories that always dominate the conversation are recent creationism and the belief that the six days actually represent the development of the earth over millions of years.
Truthfully, I find it impossible to believe in recent creationism. The scientific evidence based on radiometric dating states that rocks older than 3.5 billion years old can be found on every continent. While science certainly isn’t perfect, I find it hard to go against that kind of evidence.
On the other hand, the idea of the six days of creation actually representing unspecified ages certainly has its appeal. Like the theory of re-creation, it allows us to satisfy our desire to sync our religious beliefs with scientific facts. In fact, it is not entirely difficult to align large parts of the creation story with the scientific facts we know about the development of the earth.
God’s introduction of light into the world could represent His initiating the big bang or the first rays of light penetrating the earth’s atmosphere. The separation of the waters on the second day could represent the division that became clear between the oceans and the moisture in the atmosphere as the earth cooled. And perhaps the fourth day describes the point at which the gases in the atmosphere cleared to the point where the sun and moon began to cause seasons and effectively “rule over the day and over the night,” (Genesis 1:18).
It should be noted, however, that the introduction of life onto the earth, from fruit trees to birds to sea creatures to land creatures to man, does not fit with the evidence of the fossil record. Even still, the scientific plausibility of this theory is impressive, especially when compared with other creation stories.
While I have no doubt that a truly all-powerful God could have created the world in six 24-hour days, I can’t ignore the scientific facts that support an evolutionary process that took place over billions of years. And yet, the story of creation is the one place where I have no problem seeing the work of a God or Supreme Being. I just can’t rid myself of the idea that something, or someone, had to do something to get the proverbial ball rolling on life in the universe.
Congressman Matt Santos, a character from one of my favorite television shows of all time, "The West Wing," summarized my feelings well when he said, “I’m sure that many of us would agree that at the beginning of all that begetting something begun. What was that something?”