However, I have on numerous occasions since meeting Jesus, been taken to task over the apparent conflict between Genesis 1 and what we now understand of geology, evolution, astrophysics and whatnot. Like being a Christian is somehow the same as having been there. Well, I’m not a theologian or an astrophysicist, so don’t put too much trust in my beliefs and opinions on the matter, but here they are for what they’re worth.
1. The Bible is true.
This is fundamental, it has to be. This is not, however, the same as saying it is literally true from start to finish. This is most true of Genesis 1, which I believe does tell the essential truth about the formation of the Earth, and God’s and man’s respective places within that, but not necessarily the literal truth about it.
It is also not the same as saying that science is untrue; it could be that God just planted all the fossils underground to trick us, but that would be a bit silly.
2. What science says.
As I understand it, the scientific order of events in the creation of the Earth goes something like this:
- The earth was formed out of the accretion matter from the solar nebular.
- Water was brought to the proto-planet by comets and asteroids, eventually forming clouds and oceans.
- Early life forms appear: microbes, algae, and plant-like creatures like sponges and coral.
- More complex life forms evolve – starting with trilobites and other marine animals, and then the evolution of fish into amphibians and land dwelling animals.
- Evolution of animal life culminating (arguably) in mankind.
3. What the Bible says.
The Genesis account of creation breaks down like this:
- A formless, empty earth; day and night.
- Water – the seas, and clouds.
- Plant life.
- The sun, moon and stars.
- Aquatic life and winged creatures.
- Animals, culminating with man.
But that aside, I think Genesis 1 follows, in a much simplified way, what modern science now tells us about how the earth developed. Not bad, given that it was probably first written down in the 15th century BC.
4. What the Bible doesn’t say.
The Bible does not say the world was created in less than a week.
The word ‘day’ as used in Genesis 1 may mean simply ‘a period of time’, and as the Bible tells us: ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day’. These events could easily have taken 6,000 years, or 6 billion if you prefer.
I think the context makes it clear that rather than being literal, this is God using a creation account to encourage his people to take a day for rest and worship after six days labour.
Certainly, there is no logic for it meaning six 24-hour days, if there was no sun by which to measure the first three days. (Literalism can be its own worst enemy sometimes!)
It also doesn’t say that this happened, or finished happening, 6000 years ago. You can get to that figure by using the various genealogies found in the Bible, but given that those in Genesis are made up of ten or seven names, and it is known that genealogies were often abbreviated by omitting unimportant family members to achieve a desired length (often a multiple of 7, the number of completeness), the accuracy of such calculations is debatable.
So that's my thoughts on the origin of the universe. As I said, I find it weird that I never had an opinion on the subject as a non-believer (although its existence was no less real or relevant to me) but suddenly I’m expected to have a full and detailed knowledge of the matter.
But as I said at the outset, it doesn't really matter. There are probably as many theories on the creation as their are Christians, and that's the great thing about the Christian faith: it's bigger than these things that we can't quite agree on. The Bible is not about the creation of the world, it's about the salvation of the world, and to miss that because of geology or astrophysics - or Biblical literalism gone mad - would be to miss a gift far beyond your imagination.