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Our miraculous planet Earth

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Our miraculous planet Earth

Sven Östring

Sven Östring, PhD, serves as director of discipleship movements, Greater Sydney Conference, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

 

Fifty years ago, in December 1968, the Apollo 8 crew were the first human beings to orbit the Moon. As they flew over the Moon’s desolate surface on Christmas Eve 1968, they were stunned to watch as a small ball of blue, white, and green rose up over the Moon’s horizon. They were the first human beings to ever witness an earthrise! Excitedly scrambling for their cameras, they started clicking away. It was Bill Anders who took the famous Earthrise picture of our beautiful planet seen suspended in space beyond the surface of the Moon. It is one of the most famous space photos, described in Life magazine as “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”1

Years later, Anders told The Guardian, the Earth “is insignificant,but it’s the only one we’ve got.”2 The Bible declares that the Earth is far from insignificant. Indeed, says the psalmist, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14).3 Science also affirms that planet Earth is rare because it provides a livable home for living organisms. Several characteristics make Earth special:

  • Location in the Milky Way galaxy: Our solar system is located at a safe enough distance from the intense radiation that exists in both the Galactic Center and the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy.
  • Distance from the Sun: Our planet Earth is located in a special zone at the right distance from the Sun, in a region in the solar system known as the Goldilocks Zone. It is neither too hot nor too cold—the temperature is just right!
  • Big protective neighbors: In the solar system, the Earth is protected by two giant gas neighbors, Jupiter and Saturn, which draw dangerous asteroids toward themselves by their significantly larger gravity. This gives Earth a relatively safe and collision-free flight through space.
  • Large Moon: The Earth is unique in the solar system because it is orbited by a single large, natural satellite, called the Moon. The Moon regulates the tides in the oceans, which refresh the water systems on Earth.

All of these scientific discoveries confirm that our planet is uniquely, even miraculously, situated to be able to support intelligent life such as humans.

Divergence on the timing of the creation of planet Earth

While the discoveries of science are consistent with the biblical teaching that God intentionally designed our planet to support life, science has arrived at significantly more divergent conclusions to historical Christian interpretations of Genesis with regard to the age of Earth. Over the last 250 years, science has rapidly increased its calculation of the age of Earth to arrive at 4.54 billion years. This is a substantial departure from, for example, Martin Luther’s teaching that God created our planet at the commencement of a literal six-day Creation week about 6,000 years ago.

This article explores the Bible’s teaching on God’s wonderful creation and examines whether our miraculous planet Earth was created relatively recently or some time before the Creation week got underway. To do so, we will evaluate two key assumptions that are often made regarding Genesis 1.

Does “the heavens and the earth” refer to the entire universe?

Many evangelical Christians believe that Genesis 1:1 refers to the creation of the universe because the phrase “the heavens and the earth” is a merism.4 However, a merism does not refer to literally everything. Genesis 1 uses another merism, “And there was evening and there was morning” (v. 5), to refer to an entire day during the Creation week.5 This merism only refers to a finite period of time and not to eternity past all the way through to eternity future.

The same is true for the merism “the heavens and the earth.” Many scholars recognize that in Exodus 20:11 this merism is not referring to the entire created order. In Revelation 21, when John saw “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (v. 1), it does not mean that God will destroy everything! Righteous angels and saved human beings will make the transition into the new world. Thus, the phrase “the heavens and the earth” is not necessarily referring to the entire universe.

Also, the New Testament clarifies that “the heavens and the earth” is not referring to just the creation of Earth’s atmosphere and reshaping its land. Quoting Psalm 102, Hebrews sharpens the timing of the creation of planet Earth. The author writes, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands” (Heb. 1:10). Thus, Hebrews confirms that Genesis 1:1 is referring to the creation ex nihilo of planet Earth.

When God interrogated Job, He asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4a, 7). Here God indicates there were created beings in existence at the point when planet Earth was created.6 So the Genesis text “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1) does not have to refer to the entire universe but may simply refer to our planet Earth and a subspace surrounding it, including at least planet Earth, the Sun and the Moon, and probably the Milky Way galaxy.7 This can be identified as our human cosmos.8 Importantly, the Bible does not specify where the exact cosmological boundaries for this subspace lie.

When does day 1 commence in Genesis 1?

The claim that day 1 commences in Genesis 1:3 when God says, “Let there be light” is based on the consistent pattern for days 2–5. Each of those days begins with the phrase “And God said, ‘Let there be . . .’ ” and finishes with the phrase “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day.” Thus, it is natural to expect that the pattern holds for day 1 as well, and day 1 commences in Genesis 1:3.

C. John Collins points out that there is a transition to wayyiqtol verb forms in Genesis 1:3.9 In Hebrew, this transition indicates the point at which the main story line starts. Collins concludes that day 1 begins at this point.

This conclusion is undermined by the second Creation account in chapter 2. In this second account, the transition to wayyiqtol verb forms occurs at Genesis 2:7 when it says “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” However, this transition point does not signify the commencement of day 6 of the Creation week. It is most likely that the Lord God created Adam sometime during day 6, not at the commencement of the day. Thus, the commencement of the main story line in Genesis 1:3 should not be automatically aligned with the commencement of day 1 either.

A study of all of the divine creative commands in Genesis 1 reveals the following pattern:

Day number

Divine command frequency

Day 1

1: v.3

Day 2

1: v. 6

Day 3

2: vv. 9, 11

Day 4

1: v. 14

Day 5

1: v. 20

Day 6

2: vv. 24, 26

Day 7

0

There are two divine creative commands on the third and sixth days of the Creation week, and there are none recorded during the inaugural Sabbath. Importantly, each divine creative command does not usher in a new day, and there is at least one day that does not commence with a divine creative command. The pattern of divine creative commands actually points to the fact that these commands initiate a new phase of divine activity during a particular day of the Creation week rather than signaling the commencement of the actual day itself. The divine creative command “Let there be light” may therefore signify a new phase of divine creative work during the first day, and not necessarily the commencement of day 1 itself.

Significantly, there is an exegetical link between Genesis 1:2 and verses 3–5 based on the Hebrew words for “darkness” (hōšek) and “light” (‘ôr), which forms an inverted double chiasm (see table 1).

TABLE 1

First night

First day

Biblical Introduction

A: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness (hōšek) was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2).

B: “And God said, ‘Let there be light (‘ôr),’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good” (vv. 3, 4a).

Divine Separation

A: “from the darkness (hōšek)” (v. 4b).

B: “And God separated the light (‘ôr)

Divine naming

A: “and the darkness (hōšek) he called Night” (v. 5a).

B: “God called the light (‘ôr) Day”

Chronological definition

A’’’: “And there was evening

B: “and there was morning”

Chronological unit:

“the first day” (v. 5b).

This inverted double chiasm, a tightly coupled literary structure, strongly suggests that Genesis 1:2 is actually describing Earth during the evening period of day 1 and not the state of Earth prior to the Creation week.10 Thus verse 3 inaugurates the commencement of the morning period of day 1.

Further significant exegetical evidence that the author includes in Genesis 1:1, 2 within the Creation week occurs when we arrive at the conclusion of the Creation week. It does not refer back to the point when God said “Let there be light” but rather to Genesis 1:1 using a chiastic inclusio (table 2).

TABLE 2

Biblical reference

Temporal point

Creative space

Genesis 1:1a

A: “In the beginning, God created

Genesis 1:1b

B: “the heavens and the earth”

Genesis 2:1a

B’: “Thus the heavens and the earth

Genesis 2:1b

A” “were finished (being created by God).”

This exegetical connection between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:1 is confirmed in Exodus (table 3).

This leads me to believe that the passage gives exegetical evidence that the Creation week commences in Genesis 1:1 rather than in Genesis 1:3.

Exegetical conclusion

The conclusion that may be drawn from this exegetical evidence is that Genesis 1:1–31 describes the creation ex nihilo of our planet Earth and its subspace in six literal days. This means that our planet appears to have been created at the commencement of the Creation week. This would make it as young as biological life and the Sabbath itself.11

Addressing common scientific claims

But what about common scientific claims that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and that planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old? These claims raise two concerns:

1. Scientific underdetermination. For all of the evidence that we have available, a number of models can be used to explain the evidence.12 In particular, one viable explanation is that God miraculously created our planet Earth and its subspace fairly recently, and scientific underdetermination means that the scientific evidence itself cannot be used to eliminate this possibility.

2. Methodological naturalism. Secular scientists rule out the possibility that God recently created planet Earth and its subspace, not necessarily because of scientific evidence but because often there is a commitment to methodological naturalism. This means they intentionally exclude supernatural, miraculous explanations within science.13 However, this has not proved that God did not miraculously create our planet and its subspace recently. Stephen Dilley asserts that it is logically incoherent to believe that methodological naturalism, and therefore science itself, has proved that God has never performed supernatural miracles.14 It may also be logically incoherent to believe that science has proved that God did not recently create ex nihilo our planet Earth and its subspace.

TABLE 3

Time period

Creation account

Genesis 1:1-2:3 (ESV)

Decalogue summary

Exodus 20:11 (NASB)

Reiteration of Sabbath covenant Exodus 31:17b (NET)



Six days

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1)

Detailed account of Creation (vv. 2-31).

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Gen. 2:1).

"For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth,

“the sea and all that is in them,

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth,



Seventh day

“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (vv. 2, 3).

“and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

“and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”

Christians have objected that God would be deceptive if He created our planet Earth and its subspace recently, yet from scientific calculations, it appears to be old. However, it is important to note that this is a theological objection and not a scientific objection. God could have had a legitimate reason for creating planet Earth and its subspace recently, even if we are not aware of this reason. As the analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga wrote regarding miraculous actions of God: “It’s not as if, if he has a reason, we’d be the first to know. His options and possibilities are far beyond our ken; his ways are ‘past finding out’; we can hardly expect to come up with a ‘rock-solid criterion’ underlying God’s decisions to act.”15

With regard to scientific dating, the models often employed assume that planet Earth and its subspace have been upheld according to the geological and astrophysical laws that we currently observe. The age of Earth is then calculated based on this assumption. In reality, current scientific conclusions regarding the age of Earth do not undermine the biblical conclusion that, in the fairly recent past, Earth and our human cosmos were supernaturally and miraculously created.

Paradise lost and restored

While Bill Anders and his fellow Apollo 8 crew members may have been amazed to see our planet Earth rising above the horizon of the Moon, it would have been nothing compared to the primordial thrill that the angels experienced when they saw planet Earth coming forth, freshly and miraculously minted from the hand of God. It certainly would have been a dazzling sight—that small ball of blue, white, and green. The greater thrill, though, would have come from perceiving the finely balanced eco-harmony that God had crafted into this world so that this could be the exquisite home of the sons and daughters who were made in the image of God. Residing in the midst of a palatial garden were Adam and Eve, the stately and intelligent coregents of this amazing world. Yet, it wouldn’t take long before the long dark shadow of Satan started to creep over and eclipse the radiant beauty of Earth. Not only did he cast his diabolical shadow over the physical beauty of our planet but he also obscured our relationships with our Creator, one another, and nature itself. Thorns and thistles appeared, together with relationship pain and disparities.

However, in spite of the fact that it was our human choice to permit Satan’s sinister shadow to shroud our world, God in His incredible love and foresight had already developed a vision to restore this beautiful world, a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, in which the former things have passed away. Imagine seeing that world rise miraculously from the ashes!

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