Science Ch.8 - Six Snapshots of Creation

If you were God, how would you describe geological history to the author of Genesis? One way is to present it as six days in the life of the Earth. When we examine the text, this interpretation actually fits more literally than one-week creation.

The text of Genesis 1 has become a liability for many Christians, especially in certain professions. In America (where 38 percent of the population believes in one-week creation),1 some seminary teachers have been dismissed for publicly supporting evolution in Genesis. The opposite happens in the UK, where even two-thirds of Evangelical Alliance members reject one-week creation.2 I’m conscious that my own employment prospects may be reduced on both sides of the Atlantic by the following, because I want to resurrect a minority view that supports a very literal seven-day interpretation and four-billion-year evolution.

       The view is inspired by P. J. Wiseman, the father of famous Bible archaeologist Donald Wiseman. He wrote Creation Revealed in Six Days (1948), in which he compared the account of the six-day creation to narratives in Akkadian literature.3 From this he concluded that Genesis wasn’t describing God’s work as lasting for six days, but that God taught Moses about it for six days and that Moses wrote a summary of what he had learned each day. My view is slightly different: I think the summary itself is what was revealed to the author.

       This proposal suggests that Genesis 1 is, in effect, God’s description of how he created the Earth – we could refer to it as “six days in the life of the Earth.” God did not present a long, complex history of everything that happened. Instead, he gives us six snapshots of what things were like at six stages – that is, on six literal days he picked from among the billions of years during which he worked.

5-minute summary

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A day in the life

Imagine you are God. How would you explain the history of the Earth to Moses’ generation? They were just as intelligent as us, but in many areas they had far less knowledge and vocabulary than we do. They could probably name more stars and plants than most of us can, but they knew nothing about light years or genetics. One popular technique beloved by documentary journalists is to pick a few significant points in a complex process and present what was happening on those days, from morning to evening, from the point of view of someone who was there observing it.4

       For example, if you wanted to teach someone about the establishment of Israel, you could outline the history by looking at three days: when God parted the Red Sea, when he brought down the walls of Jericho, and when he caused Cyrus to release the Israelites from exile. For each day, you could view it through the eyes of someone living at the time and describe what they saw. Could God have chosen this method? When we reread Genesis 1, this interpretation works rather well.

1) God … separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”

       The first day that God picked out to illustrate the story of the Earth is one where there was nothing to see except some light that had started to shine during the daytime. When the planet was still a swirling mass of dust, with a core starting to solidify, an imaginary observer looking up from the surface would have seen nothing. But as the matter gradually compacted into a planet, the swirling clouds of particles thinned sufficiently to let some sunlight through. This observer still couldn’t have seen the sun – it was less visible than on the cloudiest day we ever experience. God picked, as the first day in the history of the Earth, the day on which some sunlight finally penetrated that dense cloud and brought light to the surface, a momentous event for the planet.

2) God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. … God called the vault “sky.”

       The second day is much later: things were now cool enough for some water to become liquid. This means that our imaginary observer could have seen that some water was in the atmosphere and some was on the ground. The atmosphere (the “sky” as we know it), was starting to form, though it was still very different from today. It was so full of water vapor that it was like a perpetual, thick fog that continued to obscure the sun – though each morning the light was able to penetrate a little more than before. This means there was energy for microscopic life to start forming.

3) “Let dry ground appear.” … And the gathered waters he called “seas.” “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”

       Next, God picked a day when land had started appearing, separate from the oceans. Our imaginary observer would presumably have been seeing volcanoes erupting through the water and laying down magma to form land, or perhaps seeing where tectonic plates had collided to form higher areas. Some of the land that was visible on this day had been there for some time because it was already covered with plants – or possibly God was stating that this would happen. The sky was full of volcanic ash, and the atmosphere was still very humid and cloudy, so the sun and the other heavenly bodies were still not visible as distinct entities, though there was plenty of sunlight for the plants.

4) “Let there be lights ... to mark sacred times, and days and years” … – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.

       The fourth day occurred in a period after the plants had transformed the atmosphere from a vapor-filled hothouse to a clear sky with individual clouds. Between the clouds, our observer could now have seen the individual sources of light for the first time, both in the day and the night. The sun, moon, and stars had been there since God “created the heavens and the Earth” in verse 1, but they wouldn’t have been visible as physical entities to an observer on earth until the atmosphere cleared sufficiently. The reduced cloud cover also allowed the seasons to assert themselves because there was more cooling in winter and heating in summer.

5) God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird. … God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number.”

       For his fifth day, God selected a typical day when animals had become abundant in the sea and air, though there weren’t yet any large animals visible on the land. It is clear from the fossil record that life started as bacteria on land as well as in the waters, but larger creatures developed first in the water. So our imaginary observer wouldn’t have been delivering a definitive report, stating that they had analyzed the land surfaces and found no life, but a report saying that they had observed life in the sea and air without observing any land creatures. Of course, many of those flying creatures set down among the dense vegetation on the land, but this didn’t make them land creatures.

6) “Let the land produce living creatures … the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And … God created mankind in his own image.

       And finally God chose a day when the big animals had arrived. These weren’t the first land animals, because the dinosaurs and others had already come and gone since the “fifth” day in this brief history of the Earth. However, this particular day was very special because the first human was about to arrive on the scene. Lots of other animals were already present – the wild animals and the predecessors of livestock, which would be domesticated by generations of breeding. Portraying humans as the final object of creation may indicate they were the goal of all that preceded, or it may merely indicate that they arrived later than most other creatures – or, most likely, both. This day is the start of the whole story of the Bible.

7) God had finished … so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

       This is a sample day in the future of this planet, because Jesus said (when accused of working on the Sabbath): “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). In some senses, God’s rest (and our rest) has started, but in other ways, God’s Sabbath rest is waiting for us after all the struggles with evil are over (Heb 4:1-11). In the meantime, we copy the week of six days’ work and one day rest, based on the way that God describes his own activity.

       This Bible chapter can, of course, be interpreted in more than one way, though this interpretation is my favorite. I especially like the way it reflects the literal text, with six literal days, each of which have a morning and evening. These were literal mornings and evenings because the sun already existed – it was just obscured from the observer by the dense atmosphere.

Difficulties and solutions

There doesn’t need to be any major conflict between science and the Genesis account. The order of events in Genesis is remarkably similar to what science has inferred by investigating the record left in fossils and in the history preserved in the DNA of living animals. The development of living things starts with plants, then animals in water, and then in air and on land. The animals in day six include the animals that developed last: wild animals, livestock, and ultimately humanity.

       There is a possible difficulty in verse 20 with regard to the “winged birds” on day five, because birds developed from the winged dinosaurs, long after large animals had colonized the land. We wouldn’t expect to see birds till the sixth day, along with the mammals. However, the Hebrew simply says “winged [things]” (oph), which often means “birds” but can also refer to “winged insects,” for example, in Leviticus 11:21, 23. Insects were among the first animals to appear – as early as the Devonian period, when the sea was teeming with life and the land was still dominated by the dense plants that became coal – that is, at day five.

       Another possible problem concerns the moon. If the moon was created on the fourth day, we can’t explain what we have found on the moon: our astronauts brought back rocks from the moon that are essentially Earth rocks. It turns out that the material that makes up the moon isn’t just similar to the Earth’s crust – it is Earth’s crust. The explanation is that a roving planet the size of Mars crashed into our planet long before life started, and the impact melted both bodies so they fused to become the Earth. The initial impact threw a lot of the surface of our planet into orbit where it solidified as the moon. On the Earth, the heavy metals of both bodies sunk to form the iron core, leaving the remains of the lighter crust at the surface.

       This event helped to make earth uniquely suitable for life. It provided a larger iron core than normal and a thinner crust – because we gained the core of the other planet, and much of the Earth’s crust now makes up the moon. This iron core gives the Earth a strong magnetic field, which shields us from the cosmic rays that would otherwise kill any life unless it is underground. The thin crust allows for tectonic movements and volcanoes, which bring precious heavy metals to the surface, where they are needed for life – and also for making things such as nails and phones. Most of that volcanic activity is now over, so we can reap the benefits in peace.

       If the moon was first seen on the fourth day, this isn’t a problem. That is, the moon already existed – its history is included in verse 1, when God “created the heavens.” However, it was hidden from view by the dense, permanent clouds of water and volcanic dust that cleared by the fourth day. The stars would create a similar problem if they weren’t created until the fourth day, because there are good reasons why the stars had to exist long before the Earth for life to be possible at all.5

       A popular view is that “day” meant a very long “period of time,” lasting millions of years, because although the Hebrew word yom normally refers to a period of twenty-four hours, it can also refer to a undefined period of time such as “the day of the Lord.” However, in that case, the “evening and morning” would be mere rhetorical flourishes. The other popular view is that these are consecutive days in a one-week creation. But then there would be only four literal evenings and mornings. The first three would be metaphorical, as the only source of light would be God himself – because the sun isn’t created till the fourth “day.”

       The creation account includes some insights that could not have been predicted by early generations. Genesis implies there was once a single land mass because it says that the waters were “gathered to one place.” We now know that the ocean once surrounded the single landmass of Pangaea before the continents divided.6 Genesis is also clear on the fact that life comes only from life because everything divides “according to its kind” (Gen 1:11, 12, 21, 24-27). This is opposite from the theory of spontaneous generation of life, which says flies, vermin, and certain plants can arise spontaneously from garbage. This theory was generally accepted till the seventeenth century.7

       Debates about the interpretation of Genesis 1 will continue and certainly won’t be settled in this short chapter. My aim is not to state exactly what the chapter did mean, but to show that the chapter can agree with what scientists have discovered about this world. In eternity we’ll probably find that no one has grasped the full truth, but the underlying message of the chapter is overwhelmingly loud and clear: God made everything, and we are his creation.

Does it matter?

Does it matter how long God took to make the Earth (see chap. 10)? I think it does, because the answer tells us something about God. If he made this planet in a week, then he has given it an appearance of history – which seems deceptive. He would have made coal shaped like trees that had never stood, and bones of dinosaurs and other fossils that had never lived. When he made the stars, he would have included the light beams that had apparently been traveling toward us for millions of years. Those beams show events millions of years ago, such as stars collapsing into black holes. Of course, if the stars and their light beams were made only a few thousand years ago, they are showing events that never really happened.

       This is called the omphalos hypothesis and has a long and respectable history.8 It conjectures that when God created the Earth, he laid rock strata in an order that suggests a long geological history, with ancient bedrock lower than sedimentary rocks, making chalk appear to be made from sea creatures millions of years ago. He would have given the various rocks specific amounts of the radioactive decay that they would have if the earth had been forming for millions of years. All this is possible, but personally I can’t envisage that God would set out to deceive us in such a calculating way and in such minute detail.

       More important than this, however, is the message of the text itself. We aren’t told how long creation took, but our debate about this has obscured what we are told. The creation account presents this living planet as a marvelous tribute to the greatness of God and his love for us, his creation, for which he has a plan and a purpose. This purpose is something that science can never discover, so it was important for God to reveal it in the Bible. The details of how God made our planet didn’t need to be revealed by God – it could wait till we worked it out for ourselves from clues found in the rocks.

       The sadness, for me, is that the debate itself has turned people away from the Bible. Some people have insisted on sticking to a particular interpretation that implies that either the Bible or countless scientific studies have got it all wrong. Instead, I’d prefer to acknowledge that some human interpretations of the Bible may be wrong and let science inform us while we look at the text again. We can then see that the discoveries of science are a wonderful confirmation of what is recorded in Genesis 1. This would help many more people to accept the real message of this chapter: that God created us and loves us.


• Genesis 1 can describe six literal days selected from the history of the earth.
• This implies that the sun became visible by day four, having been created before day one.
• Other interpretations regard the days as long eras or as consecutive days in one week.
• The one-week interpretation entails a metaphorical “evening and morning” before the sun is created in day four.
• Proposal: When a literal interpretation of the text coheres with science, we should opt for that.

1^ See Art Swift, “In U.S., Belief in Creationist View of Humans at New Low,” Gallup, May 22, 2017 (
2^ See Evangelical Alliance, “Science, Creation and Evolution” (
3^ For the full text, see P. J. Wiseman, Creation Revealed In Six Days (Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1948) (
4^ For example, “8 Days That Made Rome,” a TV series on the history of Rome by Bettany Hughes (
5^ See chap. 3, “What Are the Stars For?”
6^ See Wikipedia, “Pangaea” (
7^ See Wikipedia, “Spontaneous Generation” (
8^ See Wikipedia, “Omphalos Hypothesis” (

This was previously published in a similar form in Christianity magazine

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