The Days of Creation
Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
"I believe in the One God, our Father, All-Encompassing, the Creator of the heavens and earth and all that is visible and invisible" - this is what we confess in our everyday prayer at home and in church. The world [universe], therefore, is not only an item for scientific study to us, but an item of belief as well. However much science opens up to us in the realm of physics, chemistry, geology, cosmology, etc., the principle questions of our existence remain unanswered: where did the laws of nature and the elements that form our universe come from? And what is the purpose of everything that surrounds us and of our own lives? Science is not only incapable of answering these worrisome questions; indeed, they lie beyond the grasp of science. The answer to these questions is found only in the God-given Bible.
In the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, the Prophet Moses reveals to us the story of God's creation of Earth and man. Until recently, science was unable to offer any convincing explanation of the origins of the world. Only in the 20th century, thanks to advances in astronomy, geology and paleontology, the history of the origins of the world has lent itself to scientific study. And what has science found? That the world originated in the precise order that Moses had recounted!
Though the purpose of Moses was not to give a detailed scientific explanation of the origins of the universe, his account preceded current scientific discoveries by several thousand years. His description was the first to evidence that the world is not eternal, but was created in time and developed in an evolutionary manner. The same conclusion - that the universe has not always existed - has been reached by contemporary astronomers, who have discovered that the universe is expanding like a balloon. Fifteen to twenty billion years ago, the entire universe was condensed into a microscopic dot, which, having exploded, began to expand in al directions, creating in the process our world.
Moses divided God's creation of the world into seven periods, which he symbolically referred to as "days." During six days God created the world, and on the seventh, "rested from His labors." Moses doesn't say how long the days lasted: the seventh day, which has seen the entire development of the human race, has been continuing over a period of millennia. The figure "seven" is often used in the Bible with a symbolic, not literal meaning. It indicates fullness, completion.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" - with these words the Bible encompasses all that God created: our visible physical world as well as the invisible angelic world that lies beyond our powers of physical perception. The word "created" indicates that God made the world from nothing. This conclusion is also being reached by many scientists: the deeper nuclear physics probes into the basis of matter, the more obviously it sees its emptiness and immateriality. Apparently, even the "quarks" that comprise protons are not basic and hard particles. It seems that matter is some inexplicable form of energy.
Returning to the biblical description of the world, we see that in its general form it confirms what current scientific theory has to say on this issue. Skipping the particulars of the appearance of galaxies following the original "In the beginning," Moses' account focuses on the creation of our Earth and everything that inhabits it. On the first "day," "God said: let there be light." These words probably relate to the moment when the interstellar dust and gases that formed our solar system became so condensed under gravitational influences that a thermonuclear reaction (hydrogen becoming helium) took place, causing a great emission of light. In this way, the sun was formed. Light is the key factor in the appearance of life on earth.
The same gases and dust from which the sun formed also formed comets, meteorites, asteroids, protoplanets, etc. This whole circulating and rushing mass of gases, dust and rocks was called "water" by Moses. Mutual gravitational pulls caused it to form into planets. This is "the separation of the water that is below the earth from the water that is above it," which took place on the second day of creation. In this manner, the solar system, or Biblical "heavens," took its final form.
In the beginning, the Earth, along with the other planets, was red-hot. Evaporating water from the depths of the Earth enveloped it in a thick atmosphere. As the surface of the Earth cooled, water began to fall in the form of rain, creating oceans and continents. Then, thanks to water and light, plant life began to appear - this was the third "day" of creation.
The first green plants, water-borne microorganisms, and later huge land plants began to clear the atmosphere of carbon monoxide gases and produce oxygen. Up to this moment, if one were to look up from the Earth at the sky, he would see no more than the outlines of the sun, moon and stars, because the Earth was covered by a thick and opaque atmosphere, of approximately the same type as the planet Venus now has. This is why Moses places the appearance of the sun, moon and stars on the fourth "day," following the appearance of plant life. Ignorant of this fact, atheists and materialists of the beginning of our century often made light of the Bible's ordering of the appearance of the sun following plant life. According to the Bible, dispersed sunlight reached the Earth's surface from the first day of its existence, even though the contours of the sun were indiscernible.
The increase of oxygen in the atmosphere made possible the appearance of more complex life forms - fish and birds (on the fifth "day"), and later - mammals, and finally - human beings (on the sixth "day"). Scientific knowledge is in complete agreement with this order of evolution.
The Biblical account does not dwell on the details of the development of life on Earth that interest contemporary science. But it must be kept in mind that the purpose of the Biblical account is not to list details, but to expose the Original Cause of the Creation and the wisdom of its Author. Moses closes his story with the following words: "and God saw what He had made and it WAS GOOD!" In other words, the Creator had a specific goal in mind: that all should serve good and lead to good. Nature has retained the seal of goodness and continues to remind us not only of the wisdom, but of the blessedness of the Creator.
According to the Book of Genesis, last to be created was man. Current scientific thought also agrees that man appeared relatively recently, following the appearance of other living organisms. In the question of the appearance of man, the main difference between religion and science is in the area of methods and goals. Science attempts to detail the physical appearance of man - of the body, whereas the Bible speaks of man in his complete form, having, besides a body, a judicious soul in God's image. The Bible also confirms that man was made from "earth," i.e. out of the same elements as other creatures. This fact is important because it alludes to the close relationship between man and the animal kingdom. Yet at the same time, the Bible underlines man's special position among the animals as blessed with "God's breath" - an eternal soul. Thanks to his soul, created in God's image, man is capable of discerning good from evil. This spiritual feeling causes him to seek God's company, to follow the path of moral perfection. In the end, earthly pleasures alone cannot satisfy man's spiritual thirst. These facts confirm the Bible's statement that man is not merely the highest form of animal evolution, but a representative of two worlds: the physical and spiritual. Understanding this mystery helps man to find his place in the world, heed his calling to do good and become closer to God.
In concluding this brief sketch of God's creation of the universe, it should be noted that both in this account as well as in the later story of the life of our ancestors in Eden there are symbols and allusions, the full meanings of which are beyond our powers of understanding. The purpose of the symbols is that they give the reader the opportunity to understand the main points that God wishes to open to us, without getting bogged down in complicated details: in this case the reasons for evil, sickness, death, etc.
Science continues to study the world around us. It uncovers new and interesting facts that help us to better understand the Bible. Yet often "we cannot see the forest for the trees"; for this reason the general principles are far more necessary to us than the details. The purpose of the Bible is to open to us the principles of life, and for this reason its significance will remain eternal.
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Missionary Leaflet #
Copyright (c) 1998 and Published by
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068
Editor: Archimandrite Alexander (Mileant)