Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Creationism, Faith, God, Intelligent Design, Religion, Science, Truth

How Genesis Views Our Universe

Virtually everyone knows that it’s hard to square the differences between the Genesis account of creation and what we now know through science. For centuries, people believed that the earth was less than 10,000 years old, because the Bible doesn’t seem to go back any further than that. Now, geology, biology, chemistry, anthropology, archaeology, and astronomy agree that the earth (and our universe) is far, far older than that. Now, it’s certainly possible that God spoke everything into existence 10,000 years ago, but with the appearance that it had been here for billions of years. That’s what I believed when I was a Christian. Others think that the “6 days” spoken of in Genesis is figurative for simply “periods of time.” But even if one of those theories could answer some of the problems, it can’t solve them all.

The average person living at the time Genesis was written did not know that the earth is a sphere, or that the sun is a star, or that the earth is just one of at least 8 planets circling the sun. Of course, if God miraculously inspired the writing of Genesis, then it doesn’t matter what people understood at the time it was written, because God knew everything we know now, and more. But that’s the thing: Genesis has more problems than just the age of the universe. When you read Genesis carefully, you get a view of the universe much like the one depicted by these images:


Let’s look at some passages, and I think you’ll see the similarities. Take Genesis 1:6,7, for instance:

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.

What? This is probably one of the most confusing passages in this chapter if you’re trying to apply it to what we know of the cosmos. What does it mean to separate the waters from the waters? And what’s this “expanse” that it talks about? Well, verse 8 answers that for us:

And God called the expanse Heaven.

In other words, the expanse is the sky. It’s not “Heaven” in the spiritual sense, as we’ll see from some of the other verses. But how does the sky separate waters? We learn more starting with verse 9:

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

So the waters under the expanse (sky) are oceans, rivers, etc. What are the waters above the sky? We can’t say it’s water vapor for two reasons: One, it doesn’t make sense in the context of the passage. But the second and more important reason is explained here (vs 14-18):

And 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, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

According to this passage, the sun, moon, and stars are stuck in the sky — the same sky that keeps back the “waters above.”

Now look again at the two images I posted above. Genesis is describing a system in which the sky acts as a dome around the earth. This dome has pretty lights stuck in it to help us see, even when it’s night. The business about water being above the sky makes sense when you think about it — why else is the sky blue? And where do you think rain comes from? We see this in Genesis 7:11-12, when God decides to flood the earth:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

For people living at the time Genesis was written, this was not a bad job of explaining things. It explained why the sky was blue, where rain came from, and why we have the sun, moon, and stars. We can easily understand why they held these beliefs. However, in today’s age, the Genesis account is absurd. Efforts to make it fit with what we now know about the universe is a bit like trying to rationally argue for the existence of Santa Claus. Why not just put an end to all the mental gymnastics and accept that like every other religious text in the world, the Bible is just the product of mankind’s imagination? It may be a difficult proposition to accept, if you’re a firm believer. But I can tell you from experience that the whole thing makes a lot more sense when you stop assuming God had anything to do with the Bible.

264 thoughts on “How Genesis Views Our Universe”

  1. Why not just put an end to all the mental gymnastics and accept that like every other religious text in the world, the Bible is just the product of mankind’s imagination? It may be a difficult proposition to accept, if you’re a firm believer. But I can tell you from experience that the whole thing makes a lot more sense when you stop assuming God had anything to do with the Bible.

    This is a hard thing to ask most people for I guess there are countless millions who have never thought deeply about these passages

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  2. This is probably one of the most confusing passages in this chapter if you’re trying to apply it to what we know of the cosmos.

    On my first read of Genesis (many decades ago), I found that confusing. But, once I realized that it was presenting a naive pre-scientific account, it suddenly made sense and became quite easy to read. At the time, that led me to decide that the Bible could be inerrant only on theological matters, but certainly not on what we would consider scientific topics. I concluded that it wasn’t written for us. It was written for pre-scientific people. YEC creationists seem to find it hard to adopt that view.

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  3. When we first became very literal my husband and I sat down one evening trying to figure out why the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 were so different. We couldn’t and just swept in under the rug at the time and figured it had to be the same somehow.

    if God miraculously inspired the writing of Genesis, then it doesn’t matter what people understood at the time it was written, because God knew everything we know now, and more.

    Exactly!!

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  4. I have no problem marrying the science and Genesis. Because Genesis is read terribly wrong. The waters above refer to the atmosphere, the troposphere, etc. The Bible never gives us the age of the earth, people base it on genealogy and when they think Adam was created. Since they think he is the first man they make the earth that old. Adam was not the first man and the facts go on and on. The idea that you have to reject the Bible is the part that is nonsense.

    You can read more of what I think here: http://fluidtheology.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/creation-and-evolution-part-1/
    http://fluidtheology.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/25/
    http://fluidtheology.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/conflict-between-genesis-1-and-2/

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  5. John is so right about your patience Nate. I know I’ve said it before, but I really admire the patience you display on your blog. If I had just a small percentage of that I’d be better off.

    Very good points here Nate. For me the plain reading of Genesis 1 and 2 displays that the writers of these passages were all too human. As you say, if there is a God that really is all knowing and all powerful and He inspired these writings then you would think He would have had these things written correctly. Such a being would have known that we’d all be discussing this and confused about it almost 3000 years later.

    The moon being a source of light, the earth formed before the sun, stars and moon, there being light before the sun, the animals created after Adam in chapter 2 are all difficulties that are much more easily explained by simply admitting that this is a book written by imperfect humans. I think it’s the same reasoning that “exclusivist” Christians use to declare scriptures of other religions to be false, so I don’t think I’m too out of line with my own conclusions.

    Sure it’s “possible” that God could have allowed mistakes, but this isn’t the kind of conclusion that makes sense for me.

    Even some evangelicals (Peter Enns, Thom Stark, Kenton Sparks, etc.) are starting to concede that there are mistakes in these passages and others (although the likes of Norman Geisler would throw them out of “evangelicalism” if they had the power, much like he did to Mike Licona.)

    For me, if I can’t trust these writers to be correct about these kinds of things, or if I can’t trust them to be consistent in their morality (genocides, slavery, etc.) then how can I trust them to be correct in the things that are so important? (yeah, rhetorical question)

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  6. Then too, there the problem with translation errors:

    I have before me a book, entitled, “HOLY BIBLE.” Under that title, in smaller gold leaf print, the words, “KING JAMES VERSION.” Inside the flyleaf, the book assures me that it is, “TRANSLATED OUT OF THE ORIGINAL TONGUES: AND WITH THE FORMER TRANSLATIONS DILIGENTLY COMPARED AND REVISED, BY HIS MAJESTY’S SPECIAL COMMAND.”

    I also have another copy I found online from the Electronic Text Center of the University of Virginia Library, for comparison. Both texts agree with my above quotation of Genesis 1:20, “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.” – word for word.

    But I also have a copy of the same verse from the Latin Vulgate, the original source for the King James version, which says: “dixit etiam Deus producant aquae reptile animae viventis et volatile super terram sub firmamento caeli” (emphasis, mine). Translated, – and yes Laurie, I’ve studied Latin – the bolded portion says: “over the earth, under (not “in”) the firmament of heaven” – “super,” meaning “above,” “sub,” meaning, “below.”

    These two copies of the King James Version of The Bible have incorrectly translated one Latin preposition, “sub” (“under”), to read, “in,” thereby changing the context of the entire sentence, placing heaven inside Earth’s atmospheric envelope. Yet the King James version is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, which is a translation of the Greek Pentateuch, which is a translation of the Hebrew Tanakh, based in part upon stories handed down verbally from generation to generation for thousands of years, but otherwise, doubtless all true.

    One tiny preposition? No big deal. But one translation error at the very beginning of the book, leads me to wonder how many more are in there?

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  7. Welcome, chialphagirl, and thanks for flawlessly demonstrating the gymnastics I was speaking of:

    Because Genesis is read terribly wrong. The waters above refer to the atmosphere, the troposphere, etc. The Bible never gives us the age of the earth, people base it on genealogy and when they think Adam was created. Since they think he is the first man they make the earth that old. Adam was not the first man and the facts go on and on.

    I think you mean Genesis was written terribly wrong. If most of the audience understands it a particular way, that’s not the fault of the audience.

    To your point about the atmosphere, are the sun, moon, and stars inside our atmosphere? If so, then your explanation would hold water (pardon the pun), but I believe the scientific consensus is that the sun, moon, and stars are situated way beyond our atmosphere. That being the case, how could the “waters above” refer to the atmosphere, when the expanse containing all of the cosmos is supposed to be in between the earthly waters that the “waters above”?

    People view Adam as the first man, because the Bible says he was. Even the name “Adam” means “man.”

    I’m afraid that Genesis and science are simply at odds. For just a moment, try to honestly consider which position makes more sense: that Genesis was truly inspired by the creator of the universe, or that it was just written by people who had a misunderstanding of the universe they were living in?

    Thanks for the comment.

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  8. Thanks to everyone for all the great comments!

    @rodalena — I don’t think that drawing came from Clarence Larkin, but I’m not positive. I have seen a similar (possibly the same) picture in a Peter Enns book, Inspiration and Incarnation.

    @Howie — thanks for the compliment! But I do think you have as much patience as I do — at least, you seem to in your comments. And thanks for listing some of the other problems with Genesis that I didn’t get to. Also, I really identified with what you said here:

    For me, if I can’t trust these writers to be correct about these kinds of things, or if I can’t trust them to be consistent in their morality (genocides, slavery, etc.) then how can I trust them to be correct in the things that are so important? (yeah, rhetorical question)

    Apparently, Jesus would have identified with it as well:

    If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

    @Arch — I don’t know Latin (“it’s all Greek to me”), so thanks for providing that excellent insight!

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  9. I applaud your effort to find ways to make the Bible conform to modern views of science, chialphagirl – at least that tells me that you are conversant with science, unlike many theists I’ve known, who ignore science because they don’t want to confuse their little theist brains with facts. However, I have to be honest, once you trotted out “bara,” you lost
    me.

    I hope you dig deeply enough in your quest, to discover that Chapter 1 of Genesis was written by a group of Aaronid Jewish Priests, around 550 BCE in Mesopotamia, during the Babylonian Captivity, who collectively became known to biblical scholars as the Priestly Source, and was intended to entirely replace Gen 2, written by the Yahwist Source in Judah, around 950 BCE, that gives us a more anthropomorphic god who pops down to earth for walks, “in the cool of the day,” sometimes, when the heavenly air conditioning system is on the fritz, and who zaps down his celestial Singer and sews clothes for Adam and Eve. The Priestly Source felt the Jewish god should be more ethereal than that, more dignified and untouchable, but the Redactor, who pieced together the entire Torah from at least four different sources, had second thoughts about tossing one of the biblical books – what kind of trouble might he find himself in, if he tossed the wrong book? So he kept both in, which is why we have two conflicting chapters in Genesis, or “bereshit,” as it was originally known (having nothing to do with a bear’s extracurricular activities in the woods).

    But you’re off to a good start – keep digging, keep writing, and always remember:

    “A thorough reading and understanding of the Bible is the surest path to atheism.”
    — Donald Morgan —

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  10. Oh, and chialphagirl, don’t just spam and run, stick around and join in our discussions! There are other theists here, you won’t be alone and picked on unmercifully —

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  11. Arch, I am sure you know that your documentary hypothesis, is indeed just just that, a hypothesis. It seems really, that you just use it to get a rise out of people who believe in the scriptures. I know my opinion doesn’t rate with you, and I hate to be redundant, but if you want to understand the Hebrew scriptures it helps to look at them from a Hebrew perspective. I believe Ya gave Mosheh the Torah, and that what you find difficult to interpret is nothing more than a chiastic structure, which was a very common practise in Bereshit.

    Welcome chialphagirl!

    Don’t go ganging up on her now Arch 😉

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  12. Good morning, Laurie, glad you could join us – I trust the goats, chickens, daughters are well —

    RE:

    I am sure you know that your documentary hypothesis, is indeed just just that, a hypothesis. It seems really, that you just use it to get a rise out of people who believe in the scriptures.

    You’ve mentioned before that you attend Catholic services, though I’m not sure if you consider yourself a practising Catholic, or just a person who attends their services.So I’m left to guess that you at least have access to a copy of the Catholic’s “The New American Bible,” in which case, when you find time, would you please turn to the article in the front of the book – p xxi – xxxiii – the section entitled, “How The Bible Came About,” by Jerome Kodell, O.S.B., and continue on through the section to follow, “How To Study The Bible,” by Orlando R. Barone – note especially page xxxi, on which author Barone references the exact biblical sources, J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), D (Deuteronomist) and P (Priestly), that I’ve repeatedly presented to you. I can’t help wondering if they’re just throwing that in to get a rise out of people who believe in the scripture. After all, those Catholics can be more laughs than a barrel of monkeys when they really put their minds to it, the Inquisition springs to mind — Laugh? I thought they’d cry! I thought their pants would never dry!

    People have doubted, Laurie, ever since the 1500’s and possibly longer than that, that Moses (which means “baby” in ancient Egyptian) didn’t write the Torah. Let me give you a little history to ignore:

    15th Century: Bishop Tostatus suggested that certain passages were written by one of the prophets, not by Moses.

    As early as 1520, Carlstadt, a leader of the Reformation movement in Germany, wrote a pamphlet arguing that Moses did not write the Pentateuch.
     
    In 1574, A. Du Maes, a Roman Catholic scholar, suggested that the Pentateuch was composed by Ezra, who used old manuscripts as a basis.

    Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, concluded in 1651 that Moses wrote only parts of Deuteronomy. 

    In Tractatus theologico-politicus (1677), Baruch Spinoza, the Jewish philosopher, recognized as one of the founders of modern biblical criticism, reached a conclusion much like that of Du Maes, that Ezra compiled Genesis to II Kings from documents of varying dates.

    Shortly afterward, Richard Simon, a Roman Catholic priest, often called “the father of biblical criticism,” gathered together the substance of critical analyses up to his time and raised the problem of literary history, thus opening the door to the application of techniques used in the study of non-sacred literature to the Bible.

    Further, explore the works of German minister Henning Bernard Whitter in 1711, French professor of medicine and Court Physician to Louis XV, Jean Astruc, in 1753, and noted and respected German scholar and son of a pastor, Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, in 1780.

    In 1806-7 W. M. L. DeWette, a German scholar, published a two volume introductory study of the Old Testament in which he suggested that the book found in the temple in 621 BCE may not have been written by Moses, but by a later author.

    In 1835-36, Wilhelm Vatke, a student of Hegel, wrote a critical work, Die Religion des Alten Testaments nach den kanonischen Büchern entwickelt, which contained the seeds of a revolution in the ideas held about the Old Testament, which was followed, in 1862, by K.H. Graf, also a student of Hegel, who wrote Der Prophet Jeremiah, in which he proposed that the Book of Deuteronomy, surprisingly “found” in the temple, just when its laws were needed, was written by none other than Jeremiah himself.

    Then followed, in 1876/77, Julius Wellhausen, a student of Graf stood on the shoulders of these giants who dared to look at the Bible critically, and put together what is now known as the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis.

    Belief in the documentary hypothesis was triggered by a number of factors, such as:
    • Anachronisms, like the list of the Edomite kings
    • Duplicate and triplicate passages.
    • The flood story appears to involve the meshing of two separate stories.
    • Various passages portrayed God in different ways.

    These factors led theologians to the conclusion that the Pentateuch is a hybrid document which was written well after Moses’ death, and much later than the events portrayed.

    Sorry, Laurie, but I am not alone in my opinion, and if it IS “just a hypothesis,” then it’s one that Catholicism accepts as a valid one.

    Sorry for taking up so much space, Nate, but some things can’t be explained in a “tweet” and Laurie deserves to know that I’m not just making this stuff up.

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  13. The formation of the sun and planets has gas, liquid, and solid phases. The gravitational forces begin planetary formation Genesis 1:2. The gravitation forces initiates the fusion of the sun Genesis 1:3. The formation cloud of the solar system dissipates Genesis 1:4 and 5. The planets in liquid form are separated by space Genesis 1:6 -8. The surface of the earth solidifies and the early bombardment period brings water Genesis 1:9-10. The sequence of life formation in the remainder of the first chapter of Genesis follows what is scientifically accepted.

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  14. Wow!!! Not Catholic Arch! Don’t want to be burned at the stake for heresy Ya know! How could I be Catholics when I have clearly stated that I am not a christian and I don’t believe Paul was anything more than anti Christ?

    So many things to say, but my youngest is not feeling well so I’ll have to get back to you on Sunday.

    Before I go though, the scriptures teach that Satan deceives the world through religion. Not trying to be malicious here, but the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon in Revelations and Christianity is is just another daughter. I was reading another blog this morning talking about speaking in tounges, and wanted to clarify that Yeshua never condoned “vain babble”, and the tounges they spoke were real languages. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am not. Way off topic though.

    The only reason I brought it up is that Ark wonders how we know who is right when all religions manifest “spiritual gifts” and feel that they are right. Maybe someone should proof text Paul’s OT quote on God giving US gifts. He seems to have a knack for misquoting scripture, just like someone else

    Not judging, just making an observation

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  15. And beyond all of that, Laurie, you have to imagine a scales, on one side of which is a hypothesis, with hundreds of years of supporting evidence, and on the other, a fable, with nothing factual to support it.

    Had no one ever analyzed the Bible, researched it, then researched the world to see if it matched (and I mean matched, not warped the world to fit the words of priests with no scientific knowledge whatsoever), I might be inclined to believe those fables myself, and in fact did for ten or twelve years of my childhood, but as Magellan pointed out, when you’ve seen the shadow of the earth on the eclipsed moon, you can never go back to believing the earth is flat.

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  16. @Marc — I’m sorry, but Genesis 1 simply doesn’t support what you’re saying. Just consider this section:

    Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.

    14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

    20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

    In verses 16-18, it says God made two great lights — one to rule the day and one to rule the night. He also made the stars (sounds like an afterthought, though we now know that these are other suns and planets). God’s creation of these things came after he created all plant life, but before he created any animal life. That is not at all what we find through science. And remember, there’s still the “waters above” that must be dealt with. And those waters are separated from the “waters below” by the same “expanse” that contains the sun, moon, planets, stars, and other galaxies.

    I know how difficult it is to consider the possibility that the Bible wasn’t inspired after all. It took a long time for me to come to terms with it, and it’s a horribly frightening prospect. But once you let it sink in a bit, and you start reading the rest of the Bible with an open mind about whether or not it’s inspired, many things start to fall into place.

    Why does Paul say there’s 430 years between Abraham’s promises and the coming of the Law? Because he simply made a mistake. Why do Matthew and Luke give such irreconcilable accounts of Jesus’ birth? Because they’re simply recording two different and separate traditions — the accounts were never meant to go together. Why does Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre fail so utterly? Because he was just a regular guy making a prediction — sometimes they don’t come true. Why is Jesus’ prophecy that the end of the world would happen before 100 CE so problematic? Because he was wrong.

    Realizing those things doesn’t mean you have to jettison your belief in God. It may just mean a realization that “God” does not equal “god of the Bible.”

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  17. Laurie, sorry about your daughter – by all means, take care of that, we can always argue —

    But as long as I’m here, I never said you were Catholic, I was referring to the comments you’ve made – and I can wade through a pile of comments and find them if you make me – in which you said you attended the Catholic Church because there was something about their structure or service or something, that you liked – now PLEASE just admit it, and don’t make me crawl back through all of those comments to prove it —

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  18. lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs

    I found it especially amusing, though at the moment, I don’t have chapter and verse at my fingertips, that a later point in the Bible, using the stars for “signs,” i.e., astrology, will be considered a sin, but according to Gen, that what they were created for.

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