Thoughts on Genesis Chapter One

"The statement in Genesis Chapter One that God created the world in seven days is so unscientific! As Richard Dawkins stresses, science is all; it's evidence that matters, not blind belief."

Such views are on the rise: I have heard them several times recently. Let's examine them.

Firstly, note that since Dawkins' contention has no evidence to support it, it is itself a statement of faith. This no bad thing. I believe in impartial justice, in speaking the truth, and in being kind to people, all without any evidence in support. Perhaps faith is not so bad after all.

Concerning scientific evidence, note the disregard of it in our objector's opening sentence. Genesis One clearly states that God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. Anybody wishing to make a point about the science or otherwise of the chapter should at least quote the text accurately.

Noting the context would help too: read on, and you discover that observing the weekly Sabbath by resting on the seventh day is a major Bible theme. Perhaps the intended message of Genesis one is, "Look: even God rested on the seventh day, so you should too, Buddy!"

So what about the science of the chapter? There is no day and night without the sun and moon, and since these are not created until "day" four, we have a puzzle regarding days one to three. It seems churlish to say that the author was too dumb to notice the discrepancy. We might rather infer that he never intended each day and night to be taken as a twenty-four hour period.

If so, and we allow a longer time frame for each "day", and imagine an observer on the fledgling earth, then the order of events makes perfect sense. To begin with, the cloud cover would have been total, and the rain incessant. One would have been aware of light filtering through (day 1). After a very long while, the downpour would have lessened, and water would have begun to collect in the oceans, allowing land and vegetation to appear (days 2-3). Then, after an age, there would have come a glorious moment when the clouds would have parted sufficiently to allow a shaft of sunlight to reach the surface. Sun moon and stars would have become visible (day 4). Animals fish and birds would have followed, and finally humanity (days 5-6).

But the greatest point in favour of the science of Genesis one to my mind is this - the account states that light, or electro-magnetic radiation to give it its scientific term, predates the sun moon and stars. This is in line with big bang cosmology, which states that at the beginning, light was all there was, and matter followed later. I find this an utterly remarkable insight.

Peter Higgs proposed the particle that bears his name in the 1960s, and the elusive item was unearthed fifty years later. But the proposed primacy of light over the heavenly bodies had to wait many hundreds of years before it was finally vindicated in the twentieth century. During all that time I imagine people would have scoffed at Genesis one - "How silly! Light before the sun moon and stars indeed!"

If Genesis one turns out to be a scientific treasure store, contrary to first appearances, we are left wondering, what other scientific insights might the Bible contain that have been opaque to us?

Who knows? There may be matters in Scripture which are so far in advance of what we have discovered today that we cannot be aware of them yet. But personally, I find the thought in Psalm Eight that humanity will rule over the stars as astounding as the light insight of Genesis one. We are barely ready for this notion even now - most people I talk to have yet to grasp that unless humanity expands into space, we are doomed. The environment can only be preserved if we move power generation and heavy industry into orbit, and we urgently need to start mining the moon and the asteroids for natural resources over the coming decades. I find it wonderful that the Bible encourages our expansion into space.

We do not need to apologise for the apparently unscientific nature of Genesis one. Once we relax over the use of the word day, it emerges as good science.

David Pennant, Woking

PS. To understand Psalm Eight's encouragement to humanity to spread across the galaxies, look for the equation in the Psalm. Where would science be without its equations?