Now, following my deconversion to atheism, I had taken it on the word of reliable sources that the theory of evolution and Genesis did not, in fact, line up. What I realized that night, though, was that I had never done the actual research to verify the truth of the statement. While I don't mean to imply anything not-nice about those who informed me of the inconsistency between Genesis and the theory of evolution, I felt the need to solidify my knowledge of this assertion in order to make sure that I had proper ground to stand on and that, if challenged, I could knowledgeably defend my position, lest I find myself easily swayed by a conveniently-persuasive counter-argument or find myself defending an indefensible stance to begin with.
ReligiousTolerance.org has a brief break-down of the inconsistencies, but I wanted to know exact details. What I investigated goes a bit beyond just evolution, though, since the book of Genesis covers not only how life reached the state it currently has, but how the universe was created; the scientific theoretical analogues are the theory of evolution and Big Bang theory, respectively.
What This is Not
This is not meant to be an in-depth argument for evolution, the Big Bang theory, or any other prevailing scientific explanations for the course of changes taken by our universe. This article moves forward with the acceptance of evolution and the belief that the theory of evolution, the Big Bang theory, and other such theories are fact, in the scientific sense of the word.
How the World Evolved, According to Genesis
In the book of Genesis, the following events occurred in the following order:
- The universe and the Earth are created (Genesis 1:1)
- God created light, and the rotation of the Earth (what I interpret to be a separation of light from darkness, as the rotation of the Earth would give the appearance of a separation of light and darkness) (Genesis 1:3-5)
- God created a separation of space from water - the atmosphere of Earth (Genesis 1:6-8)
- God created the landmasses out of a planet covered in water (Genesis 1:9-10)
- God created plant life (Genesis 1:11-12)
- God created the stars, including our sun, and the moon (Genesis 1:14-18)
- God created the marine and bird life (Genesis 1:20-21)
- God created the land-faring animals (Genesis 1:24-25)
- God created humanity (Genesis 1:26-27)
Already we can see an inconsistency: the sun was created after plant life, the Bible says. How can plants, which subsist on light (in addition to nutrients in soil and water), survive without any source of light such as the sun? One might posit that the plants that existed at the time prior to the creation of the sun somehow survived without light, but that's pure speculation - no evidence exists for trees or other seed-bearing vegetation that can survive without light - and, as a result, cannot be used in a rational, factual-based discussion.
Accuracy in Genesis argues that the entirety of the creation story is written from the viewpoint of an observer on the surface of the Earth, and that verses three through five describe the actual creation of the celestial light sources (stars) and that versus 14 through 18 are a description of a clearing of the atmosphere to such a degree that light could actually reach the surface of the planet. However, this interpretation still fails the litmus test of "how can plants survive without light", as this interpretation still implies that light was unable to reach the surface of the Earth, light that is critical for the survival and life of plants. As a result, it can be dismissed, like the above, from a rational, factual discussion and I will continue with the interpretation that the sun is not actually created until versus 14 through 18.
How the World Evolved, According to Scientific Theory
- Approximately 4.57 billion years ago, the sun was created (Sun - Life Cycle)
- Approximately 30 million years later (4.54 billion years ago), the Earth was formed (Earth) from the protoplanetary disc of matter surrounding the sun (Formation of planets)
- During this formation, it is hypothesized the still-forming Earth collided with another protoplanetary body, and the resulting collision created the moon (The giant impact hypothesis).
- Close to 250 million years after the formation of the Earth (4.3 billion years ago), the atmosphere and oceans were created (Oceans and atmosphere)
- Three hundred million years following the creation of the atmosphere (4 billion years ago), the continents appear (The first continents).
At this point, life does not yet exist on the planet. In addition to the logical conclusion of the inaccuracy of the order of events based on the requirement of sunlight by plant life, we see reliable measurements that, while there is room for error in the exact accuracy of the values themselves, the events are, relative in their sequence to each other, logically sound. Thus, it is readily apparent that the creation of the sun predates the creation of the Earth, and that the moon predates the creation of the atmosphere. This conflicts with the story of Genesis in two ways:
- Verses 14 through 18 assert that the sun was created after the Earth (which was created in verse 1)
- Verses 14 through 18 assert that the Earth, its atmosphere, plant life, and continents were created were before the creation of the moon, which we know to be demonstrably false.
From here, I moved on to researching of the formation of life. Wikipedia has a very concise and informative timeline of evolution, which states that, omitting steps that are not directly mentioned in Genesis:
- Plant life and, 75 million years later, seed-bearing plant life
- Humans (approximately 200,000 years ago)
This conflicts with Genesis in the following ways:
- Verses 11 through 12 contend that plant life preceded marine life, but we see, from the timeline, that fish marine life definitely came before plant life
- Verses 20 through 21 state that bird life preceded all land-faring creatures, but we see that reptiles and mammals, both of which categories contain land-bearing animals, precede the existence of birds.
What we see is the incompatibility of evolution and the Biblical account, literal or otherwise (assuming that a non-literal interpretation still adheres to the sequence of the events in which they are presented). The logical conclusion, due to the evidence backing scientific theory, is that the creation account by the book of Genesis is incorrect; however, that's not always the conclusion that one adheres to. There is no better example of this than Kurt Wise, a man who has a doctorate in geology from Harvard University, who wrote:
...try as I might, and even with the benefit of intact margins throughout the pages of Scripture, I found it impossible to pick up the Bible without it being rent in two. I had to make a decision between evolution and Scripture. Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible ... It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science.Wise is also quoted as saying:
Although there are scientific reasons for accepting a young earth, I am a young-age creationist because that is my understanding of the Scripture. As I shared with my professors years ago when I was in college, if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.For reference, I obtained these quotes from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, pp. 322-323; Dawkins himself cites it as being from Wise's "contribution to the 1999 book In Six Days".