Response to a Skeptic about Biblical Cosmology, part 1: Big Bang and Creation Day 4

graphic showing progression in Big Bang modelLook what I found! Another apologetics-oriented exchange from several years ago (2005). It was in the comments of the blog over at Stand to Reason (aka STR, www.str.org). Unfortunately, it is one of those where I only preserved my response(s) and not the other person(s) initial comments. (So, technically, this is only half of the exchange.) But, it isn’t all that hard to figure out the gist of what he said. I think I did a decent job responding, and I hope you find it informative and instructive.

“I never thought my first posting to this blog would be so long, but I think a few things need to be cleared up, so here goes…

Actually, Paul, there is nothing wrong with Biblical cosmology. In fact, every week there are new scientific discoveries/experiments that strengthen what Scripture says. Take Big Bang cosmology, for example. There are many scientific evidences for a big bang creation event, and a few more are found and/or strengthened every year.

While there are many big bang theories, they all share three basic characteristics: 1) a transcendent cosmic beginning that occurred a finite time ago; 2) a continuous universal expansion; and 3) a cosmic cooling from an extremely hot initial state. ALL THREE are/were explicitly taught in the Bible, and the Bible is the only “holy book” of the world’s religions that DOES teach these three big bang fundamentals.

The problem has been, and sometimes still is, that people have certain presumptions (often based on modern and/or Western understanding) that they read into the Biblical text or they use improper hermeneutic when reading & interpreting it. And often people were/are ignorant of certain things about the relevant ancient cultures, their literary styles, etc.

For example, the 6-10K year age for the Earth (and often the universe) that is espoused by Young-Earth Creationists comes from three assumptions: 1) the genealogies of Gen. 5 & 11 are complete (or nearly so) and are to be used for the construction of a chronology; 2) the 6 days of creation described in Gen. 1 were of the 24-hr variety and consecutive; and 3) there was no significant period of time between Gen. 1:1 & 1:2 or between 1:2 & 1:3. But, the Bible nowhere states or implies the 6000 year date. Plus, there is much evidence from both Scripture and science that the preceding three assumptions are incorrect.

Another problem you said you had was that in Genesis “the sun and moon are delineated as being created after the Earth.” This is a common complaint of skeptics and scientifically-minded Christians alike. But, in order to get the REAL story, we need to step back and do two things. First, we need to recognize that the frame of reference of these and other passages is as an individual on or near the Earth’s surface. This means that certain things need to be read as “phenomenological” (we’ll get back to this in a couple minutes). Second, a closer look at the Hebrew words used in Gen. 1 reveals some interesting things.

When God created the cosmos — all matter, energy, space, & time — “in the beginning”, that included electromagnetic radiation, i.e., light. The verb used for “create” in Gen. 1:1 is “bara'”, which means “bring forth something that is radically new; produce through supernatural activity”. (God is always the subject of this verb.) OK, fine, so far. Skip forward about 9 billion years or so and verse 2 establishes the frame of reference as the surface of the primordial Earth.

Verse 3 has God starting Day 1 with “Let there be light.” The verb here is “haya”, which means “to exist; to be; to happen; or to come to pass”. Keeping in mind both our frame of reference and Earth’s initial conditions, we can imagine what likely happened on Day 1. Light penetrated Earth’s dense, dark atmosphere for the first time. God used things like gravitational accretion and the collision event that resulted in the Moon to clear away some of the debris that had previously kept light from coming through. The atmosphere effectively went from opaque to translucent. Though the Earth had been rotating all along, now was the first time that a “day” period could be distinguishable from “night.”

Sun breaking through clouds over seaFor millions of years, things like air temperature, pressure, humidity, volcanic activity and particulate matter in the atmosphere would have prevented any break in the perpetual overcast. Eventually, though, changes in these various environmental factors (and many others I won’t get into here) would have gradually transformed the atmosphere again — this time from translucent to transparent (at least part of the day).

Thus we come to Day 4 and verses 14-15, where God says, “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… to give light on the earth…”. In other words, the Sun, Moon, and stars became distinctly visible from Earth’s surface for the first time.

Here we get to the sticking point in verse 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.” But, when we recognize this as a parenthetical note, it’s not such a problem. The Hebrew verb translated “made” is “‘asa”, meaning “produce; manufacture; fabricate”. It appears here in the appropriate form for completed action. So, verse 16 does not say that the Sun, Moon, & stars were created on Day 4, only that they were “made” sometime prior to Day 4. Notice that the next couple of verses echo those for Day 1, suggesting that the Sun was already in place to fulfill its role on the first creation day. This is consistent with what astrophysics tells us about the Sun and stars forming long before the Earth did. The Moon, on the other hand, may have formed on Day 1.”

Couldn’t have said it better mys… er, actually, I did. Was any of that helpful? Did you learn anything new? Have you been challenged to re-consider some preconceptions you may have had about the Bible’s position on cosmological origins? How about that Day 4 stuff? That one is a tough pill to swallow for skeptics, especially when the YEC interpretation is the only Christian view they’ve heard of. But, as usual, a more careful examination of the Hebrew text provides a reasonable explanation without violating either scientific discovery or Scriptural orthodoxy.

Of course, I didn’t know all of that stuff. OK, I may have retained some of it. But, I got most of my information from the writings of Dr. Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe (aka RTB, www.reasons.org), which I’ll say more about in Part 2.

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6 Responses to "Response to a Skeptic about Biblical Cosmology, part 1: Big Bang and Creation Day 4"

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