Science Ch.15 - Made from Dust, like Adam

The Bible tells us we are made of dust, and science tells us this dust was made in stars. Did God make Adam from dust in an afternoon or over billions of years? Science has a lot to say about this, but the best clue is in the Bible text.

As a child in Brighton I’d often visit the marina to explore the huge variety of boats, from fully rigged schooners to luxury yachts. My favorite discovery was a large catamaran called Quasar – a really cool name when this type of star-like object had only just been discovered. I heard that it was owned by one of the most hip and with-it people: Carl Sagan. Even if you’ve never heard of him, you’ll know a saying he popularized: “We are all made of stardust.”

       Although this fact was discovered by an ardent atheist (Fred Hoyle, in 1954), this is important for all Christian apologists, because it helps explain why God made such a big universe.1 All the interesting heavy atoms that are needed for life – such as carbon, iron, and phosphorus – are only made within larger stars.2 When those stars die in a supernova explosion, these elements become interstellar dust. Gravity gradually draws this dust together to form new stars surrounded by planets made from these new elements that can support life. So life can’t start until a whole generation of stars has lived and died, and a new generation of stars and planets has formed from the dust of dead stars.

       In Genesis, all this occurs in the measureless time of the first verse, when God “created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). So the dust from which God made Adam was indeed star dust. Of course, the dust described in Genesis is “dust of the ground,” not of the stars – though in reality this is the same because the planet is made of star dust. And the message is the same: whether the dust is described as coming from the ground or from the stars, the phrase tells us that we are made from “stuff” – elements of matter that God had already made.

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Adam made from dust

When Genesis says that God made Adam from “dust,” we should regard this as a very bold claim. I can point to bookshelves I’ve made, but I have to admit I used a self-assembly kit. A carpenter could claim to make them “from scratch” – though what he means is planks and screws. This claim would be more accurate if someone was shipwrecked on an island, so he had to cut down trees and smelt iron ore that he found. And someone who grew the trees from seeds and dug up ore from deep mines could claim to make the shelves “from seeds and soil.” Of course, no human could make the further claim that they made the seeds and induced volcanoes to bring up iron from the planet’s core. But God can claim even more than that: he made the planet itself because he is responsible for making the stars that exploded into planet-forming dust. He is the only one who can claim to make things “from dust.”

       What is it, then, that Genesis is describing when it says that “God formed a man from the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7)? Does it describe God taking elements from the soil and building a human in a single day? The text says that God started when “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up. … Then the LORD God formed a man” (Gen 2:5-7). If we try to line this up with chapter 1, God must have started before day three, when plants appeared. However, the account in chapter 2 may not be as chronological as chapter 1, so conclusions are difficult. It may also mean that God gradually made man from dust over millions of years using evolution to produce simple life, then complex life, and finally a human. The text itself could mean either, so how do we decide the correct interpretation?

Everyone made from dust

A significant clue about the meaning of “dust” comes from the Bible itself, because the same concept is used with regard to all of us – we are all made from dust. Later authors say: “You molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?”; “All come from dust, and to dust all return”; “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Job 10:9; Eccl 3:20; 12:7). Notice that the Bible adds the sobering thought that we will also return to dust, and this is repeated again elsewhere (Job 34:15; Pss 90:3; 104:29).

       In what way are we, as individuals, made from dust? God doesn’t fashion us from the soil in our parents’ garden – he shapes us all individually from the genetic inheritance of our parents and the nourishment they lovingly give us. We grow by eating dust – that is, the matter in animals and in plants that grows from dust. And our bodies are made of dust – that is, the same elements of matter that Adam’s body was made from. We inherit some of that dust as the patterns in Adam’s DNA – that very special and intricate matter that was passed down over thousands of years from Adam and through our parents. So when the Bible says we are made of dust, this dust must refer to Adam’s genes and the elements that both we and he are made from.

       Therefore, when the Bible says that God made us from dust, this implies a long process through countless generations from Adam. And when it says that God made Adam from dust, it can mean the same thing. That is, he made Adam from a genetic inheritance that he had already prepared for him through countless preceding generations. All humans, including Adam, are made from dust in the same way – by inheriting information passed on in matter and by eating matter consisting of elements that were made from star dust.

       This implies that God started the process of making Adam from dust long before he made Eden or any part of planet Earth. The dust that Adam was made from had to first be made inside stars – so, as far back as the appearance of the first stars, God was thinking of us.

More than dust

A significant phrase occurs just after “dust” in Genesis 2:7: God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Genesis has already said that God made Adam just like he made other animals – from the dust – so Adam was already alive in the sense that all animals are alive. Then Genesis informs us that God made humans into something very special with his very own “breath of life.” It is possible that this simply means that Adam started breathing, but that would be true of all animals. It is more likely to refer to God breathing “spirit” into Adam. The Bible refers to spirit in humans but not in animals, and it appears to be this spirit that makes humans able to be aware of God and able to communicate with him.3

       God giving Adam a spirit is the climax of the glorious message of Genesis. It provides a reason why humans are the final purpose and aim of creation in Genesis. We are the species with whom God shares his Spirit and with whom he communicates spiritually.

       God didn’t make just us and the planet we live on; he also created the whole universe to be our planet’s womb. In order to make humans, he started by creating a universe with enough galaxies to continue existing long enough for generations of stars to glow, to die, to explode, and to re-form with planets made of complex elements. On one of those planets God could make life. The message of Genesis is that the whole of creation was part of God’s plan to make us.

       Science can never discover the reason or purpose behind the universe, so God has had to reveal this to us by other means: the Bible. He spent so much time lovingly creating our home planet and then, when the planet was full of life, he revealed himself by joining us briefly as a human, knowing that most of us would reject him. We don’t just happen to be made from star dust: we have been made from star dust by God, and for a purpose.


• God made not only Adam but also the star dust he was made from.
• Adam was made of more than just dust: God breathed into him (Gen 2:7).
• All humans are “made of dust” (Job 10:9; Ps 90:3; etc.), molded through generations of ancestors.
• Proposal: Adam was made from dust like all humans – molded through generations of ancestors – and became the first human when God breathed into him.

1^ See chap. 3, “What Are the Stars For?”
2^ See Ethan Siegel, “Going Nuclear: How Stars Die,” Science Blogs, September 19, 2011 (
3^ See chap. 17, “What Does the Human Spirit Do?”

This was previously published in a similar form in Christianity magazine

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