Most creations myths are quite silly, starting with things like a giant egg or snake or rock. But not the ancient Hebrew account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, traditionally attributed to Moses. The Genesis account actually makes quite a lot of sense judged according to modern scientific theories about the origin of the universe and the origins of life. This raises an important question: If Moses just made up his myth out of his own imagination, how did he get so much right?
We can’t really do justice to the Mosaic account of creation without first considering the creation myths of other primitive peoples. Here’s how it all began according to the Boshongo, a Bantu tribe of Central Africa:
In the beginning there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomachache, vomited up the sun. The sun dried up some of the water, leaving land. Still in pain, Bumba vomited up the moon, the stars, and then some animals: the leopard, the crocodile, the turtle, and, finally, some men, one of whom, Yoko Lima, was white like Bumba.
A child’s tale, perhaps. But here’s another not for children, from one of history’s bloodiest people, the Aztecs:
The earth mother of the Aztecs, Coatlicue (“skirt of snakes”), was impregnated by an obsidian knife and gave birth to Coyolxauhqui, goddess of the moon, and to 400 sons, who became the stars of the southern sky. Later, Coatlicue found a ball of feathers that had fallen from the sky and tucked it into her waistband, causing her to become pregnant again. Coyolxauhqui and her brothers turned against their mother, whose unusual pregnancy shocked and outraged them. But the child inside Coatlique, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and the sun god, sprang from his mother’s womb, fully-grown and armored. He attacked Coyolxauhqui, killing her with the aid of a fire serpent. Cutting off her head, he flung it into the sky, where it became the moon.
One more, from China, the Middle Kingdom:
A cosmic egg floated within the timeless void, containing the opposing forces of yin and yang. After eons of incubation, the first being, Pan-gu emerged. The heavy parts (yin) of the egg drifted downwards, forming the earth. The lighter parts (yang) rose to form the sky. Pan-gu, fearing the parts might re-form, stood upon the earth and held up the sky. He grew 10 feet per day for 18,000 years, until the sky was 30,000 miles high. His work completed, he died. His parts transformed into elements of the universe, whether animals, weather phenomena, or celestial bodies. Some say the fleas on him became humans, but there is another explanation. The goddess Nuwa was lonely, so she fashioned men out of mud from the Yellow River. These first humans delighted her but took long to make, so she flung muddy droplets over the earth, each one becoming a new person. These hastily made people became the commoners, the earlier ones being the nobles.
Now lets turn to the account attributed to Moses. The following is a day-by-day analysis of the Mosaic account from King James Version of the first chapter of Genesis, according to what scientists now think actually happened.
1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
The first verse of Genesis speaks of the simultaneous creation of both “the heaven” and “the earth.” This is consistent with the Big Bang theory of the origins of the known universe. The “big bang” is a primordial explosion that sends molten droplets of matter spinning out in all directions. Spinning gives these hot droplets a regular spherical shape. The featurelessness of these molten spheres is why the earth is described in verse 2 as “without form and void.” In the cold emptiness of space, the molten spheres begin to cool. As they do, the various elements and molecules separate into layers, as heavier materials sink to the core and lighter materials float to the surface. All materials remain for a while in a fluid state, which is why verse 2 refers to the surface of the sphere as “the face of the deep” and “the face of the waters.” The surface is dark because the droplets of matter are still on their outward trajectory from the source of the bang, accelerating farther away from each other in the bang’s initial phase. With further cooling, some materials close to the surface harden into a solid crust, at first entirely submerged beneath a global ocean of lighter matter, not just water.
3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
As the momentum of the bang weakens, smaller spheres are drawn closer to larger spheres and into orbit around them. Verse 3 (“Let there be light”) refers to the entrapment of the Earth in the Sun’s orbit. Virtually all known planets follow an irregular orbit around their suns, causing great fluctuations of temperature in the course of their revolutions. The Earth, however, has an extraordinarily regular orbit — a perfect circle that fixes the amount of light and heat the Earth receives from the Sun within a very narrow range. Nearly all fluctuation within that range is attributable to the Sun’s surface activity. This orbit is close enough to keep the Earth from freezing but far enough away to give the Earth a climate suitable for life. These advantages are why God declares the Earth’s orbit “good” in the first half of verse 4. The second half of verse 4 refers to the Earth’s rotation, which gives the entire surface of the Earth a division of light and darkness, called “day” and “night” in verse 5.
6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
As the Earth enters the Sun’s orbit, heat from the Sun warms the surface of the Earth, causing the cold “waters” covering the Earth to evaporate. Lighter elements evaporate first, forming a steamy cloud cover of mostly nitrogen and oxygen, which eventually thins to form a gaseous atmosphere. With more heat, water evaporates to form clouds, suspended in the atmosphere above the global ocean, now mostly of water. At first, this cloud cover is quite thick and completely blankets the earth, just as clouds of other elements completely blanket the surfaces of other planets. In verses 6 through 8, the “firmament” is the Earth’s atmosphere, “the waters under the firmament” are the global ocean, and “the waters above the firmament” are the cloud cover.
9And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 11And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13And the evening and the morning were the third day.
As the Earth warms up, its molten core begins to break through the solid crust, fracturing the crust irregularly and producing new solid structures as pieces of crust collide with each other and as magma from beneath the crust cools and hardens with exposure to cold water and air. At the same time, the ongoing evaporation of water thins the global ocean to expose the Earth’s crust in places. “Dry land” appears (verses 9-10), followed by plant life (verses 11-12). Life appears first on land because freshwater, distilled by the sun, is more supportive of life than saltwater. Only after life appears on land do some forms of life adapt to living in saltwater.
14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16And 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. 17And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
Skeptics have sometimes argued that the sequence of creation in Genesis is out of order because night and day were created on Day 1 (verses 3-5) but the sun and the moon were not created until Day 4 (verses 14-19). How can that happen? The answer should now be obvious: God made all of the lights in the heavens in advance, in the “big bang” of verse 1, intending them for the purposes named in verses 14-18. But initially the Earth’s thick cloud cover hid all lights in the heavens. Only later did the clouds begin to collect and disperse to expose the land and the seas to direct sunlight and to reveal lights in the sky. Only then did God “set them in the firmament” (verse 17).
20And 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. 21And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
Plant life appeared first on land because that’s where the freshwater was. But why does animal life appear first in “the waters” (verse 20)? The answer is in a major difference between the two forms of life: Plant life is naturally stationary, whereas animal life is mobile. It only makes sense, then, that plant life would begin first on land and that animal life would begin first in water. Dry land lets plants put down roots; water is easier to get around in. The waters are more supportive of animal mobility. Verse 20 actually identifies this new form of life as “the moving creature.” Also appearing on Day 5 are “winged creatures” (verse 21) “that may fly above the earth in the open firmament” (verse 20). Paleontologists believe that winged creatures appeared relatively early, before land-based mammals. The first were insects. They believe birds evolved later, from flying reptiles, which evolved out of other water creatures.
24And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. . . . 31And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
On the last day of creation, mammals take to land. The last to appear is man, the crowning achievement of both the Genesis creation account and modern evolutionary theory. Only after the creation of man does God declare everything He has made “very good.”
Amazing, isn’t it? The Mosaic account is no child’s tale. It actually makes sense according to what we know now. How is this possible? If Moses were just making things up, he would not have had God creating night and day on the second “day,” and then had Him putting the sun and the moon in the sky on the fourth “day.” He would have tried to make sense to those of his own time, more than 3,000 years ago, based on the little that they knew back then.
Instead, he made sense in ways that we can see only now, with the benefit of all that we have learned in the recent centuries. How could he have done that without divine help? How can we not conclude that Genesis is truly a prophecy of God?