Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Science Behind Biblical Creation (Part 1 of 2)

I tend to lean towards Abraham’s interpretation of the creation found in Abraham 4, wherein the Gods continually “prepared” or “organized” the several elements so that they might subsequently “bring forth” the desired outcome. Thus, in my opinion, Abraham teaches that the Gods did not simply snap their fingers and BAM! there is a whale or a mountain. Instead, they allowed things to progress according to the laws of nature and watched them until they obeyed correctly.

I recently read a post on Mormon Insights that does a good job of relating current scientific information to the Genesis creation account. Before reading the post I had been studying almost parallel to this line of reasoning and had encountered several interesting tidbits of information not shared by S.Faux (author of Mormon Insights). To merely add to what S.Faux has already laid out, I have separated the Six Creationary Periods and commented briefly on each to demonstrate that we may continue to believe in the creation story from the Bible and still accept what science has to offer. Because of the length, I will divide my comments into two separate posts. Below I have posted comments for the First through the Third Creationary period.

[NOTE: Since I am neither an astrophysicist nor a biologist, I have placed my scientific references at the bottom of this post]

PREFACE: The Bible is not a scientific treatise and should not be treated as such. However, as Brigham Young said, “The idea that the religion of Christ is one thing, and science is another, is a mistaken idea, for there is no true religion without true science, and consequently there is no true science without true religion” (JD, 17:35). Our emphasis, of course, must rest on true science and true religion. With this in mind, whenever there seems to be a conflict between the two, the revealed word of God must take precedence. In that same vein, however, we must be careful in our interpretation of revealed truth that we not “wrest the scriptures,” as Peter warns (2 Pet. 3:16), and attempt to draw conclusions that are not warranted.

The First Period – The Formation of our Solar System

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1)

Using the most recent scientific dating techniques, scientists postulate that some 4.7 billion years ago there was a large cloud of dust and gas which began to rotate and collapse upon itself because of the mutual and intense gravitational forces present in the gas molecules and dust particles. Astrophysicists believe that this rotation may have been stimulated by the shock wave of a nearby supernova.

As the gas and dust cloud began to collapse, it gradually became denser and eventually blocked out the light completely, therefore, “darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). Interestingly enough, today we see these dark clouds in which infrared telescopes show the process of the formation of new stars. One example of this is the Horse Head Nebula as shown at the right. As the cloud continued to collapse upon itself, regions at the center became especially dense and gradually increased the overall temperature to the point where it was able to sustain nuclear fusion and result in what we know today as our sun.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). Note that this light is not the same as spoken of in the fourth period. Instead, the creation of light during the first period may refer to the commencement of nuclear fusion in the core of the sun. Ever wonder why it took until the fourth period for the various “lights in the firmament of the heaven” (Gen. 1:14) to become visible? One explanation may be that it took some time before the incident light pressures of the sun could disperse the dark clouds of gas and dust by which the solar system was formed.

Smaller regions of high density distant from the sun eventually formed the planets of our solar system; and likely the comets and asteroids we can see. This Earth too was formed in the cloud of gas and dust. The decay of radioactive elements produced a rapid internal heating, which drove off the initial atmosphere of hydrogen and inert gases and subsequently melted the entire planet. In due time, the lighter materials rose to the surface to ultimately form the crust of the Earth, and the denser materials sank to form the molten nickel-iron core. Scientists postulate that the earth began to cool, and by about 3.7 billion years ago, the first continents appeared and plate tectonics began.

The Second Period – The Formation of the Atmosphere

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters” (Gen. 1:6)

The second period describes the formation of the earth’s atmosphere. About 4 billion years ago, volcanic activity caused by interior heating in the earth’s crust created an atmosphere containing gaseous water, methane, ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Ocean floors were formed by large objects crashing into the Earth’s crust, and ultimately the Earth’s surface cooled enough for water to condense and rain to fall and fill in the oceans – “And 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” (Gen. 1:7).

Ozone was also formed during this period and filters out harmful ultraviolet light. Since ultraviolet light is lethal to most organisms, our ozone layer allows life to flourish. Also protecting the Earth’s surface is the electromagnetic field produced by its rotating liquid nickel-iron core. The field deflects the steady stream of harmful charged particles coming from the sun; i.e. solar wind and Van Allen radiation belts.

The Third Period – The Formation of the Oceans, the Continents, and Plant Life

And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so” (Gen. 1:9).

Besides the great basins being formed by the infall of asteroids or other heavenly objects, plate tectonics served to fashion the Earth’s surface to allow for both ocean and dry land. As the various continental plates collided with each other, mountain ranges formed; a process that continues today.

When the Earth was first formed, it was far from being a favorable environment for life. The atmosphere, although consisting in great measure of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, sulfur, methane, etc, was lacking oxygen. “And 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” (Gen. 1:11). Plants are the obvious thing to place first because of their ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, thus preparing the earth for animal life.

Cyanobacteria, the oldest fossils dating back to 3.5 billion years ago, likely appeared first. The process of photosynthesis by the cyanobacteria began to release oxygen into the atmosphere. About 1.5 billion years ago, green algae, a more efficient photosynthesizer, began to appear. Land plants appeared much later, some 420 million years ago. The first appearance of flowering plants was not until about 120 million years ago, and grasses are not found until around 57 million years ago.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Sources:
Emiliani, Cesare, “The Scientific Companion,” New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1988.

Rich, Patricia V., Thomas Hewitt Rich, Mildred Adams Fenton, and Carroll Lane Fenton, “The Fossil Book, A Record of Prehistoric Life,” 2d rev. ed. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996.

Zeilik, Michael, Stephen A. Gregory, and Elske V. Smith, “Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics,” 3d ed. New York: Saunders College Publishing, 1992.

10 comments:

Nate said...

I'm in so far...

Although on the 'BAM' point...there are many ways that time could be different depending on the perspective of a viewer. (see e.g. Einstein's Gedanken experiments, twin paradox, etc.)

While I agree that things progressed in order similar to how you set forth, I imagine it was done quickly from the perspective of the Father, while slowly from the perspective on earth. In other words...it took both billions of years, and a short period.

You did spark another round of speculation in me...what do we know about what the earth will become, and how could that change take place.

Evgenii said...

Nate, I don't know if the Father would be able to have a time perspective, considering he is at a minimum a 4th dimensional personage. I sure wish I was.

Nate said...

I was thinking of that too...that is why I was thinking along the lines of 'many ways'.

I'm not sure if seeing all time at once makes him 4th dimensional, or if it means he is that so wise such that he is able to accurately know all things at all time (including future decisions from people with agency).

Either way, we just diverged from the topic at hand.

I think we would agree that the creation could seem instantaneous (or without time), while still taking time (from earth's perspective) to perform the acts outlined by Jeremy.

Jeremy said...

Nate, are you referring to how the Earth will become a large Urim & Thummim as it is celestialized? That is an interesting thought.

I think the timing of the creation should also take into account the many "helpers" that were there. We understand that God commanded Jehovah and Michael to "go down," yet many of the great and noble ones assisted. God is an eternal being, but, although immortal at the time, did those "helpers" also constitute eternal beings?

I'm not sure if I made any sense there.

Nate said...

That is what I was thinking Jeremy. Another thought came to mind when thinking about the planetary change is how the earth is "burned" and becomes a terrestrial world. Will that be an instant shift, or take time, and is there some sort of significant physical process to change the state of the planet (or is it terrestrial mostly because of a change in the inhabitants).

It is also strangely symbolic that it is 1000 years until the earth becomes celestial. A thousand years is seen as symbolic of a day for creation purposes. Maybe the millennium is the 'day' that it takes to convert the earth using a process of some sort.

Based on that reasoning, maybe the thousand years number of the millennium is symbolic in nature and will actually be longer (like the creative periods).

Lots of things to think about...but probably few answers exist.

Nate said...

And I'm pretty sure I dont make sense...I'm just dumping thoughts out of my brain as they come and not giving it much thought.

Jeremy said...

Actually, you are thinking a lot like John Witdsoe (I believe it was him) and others of his generation. He believed somewhat similar to your 1000 years of the Millennium may not be 1000 years but instead a symbolic "period" of time. If that is the case, those inhabiting the earth during this time may be in for a long ride.

Evgenii said...

1000 represents perfection in time to Greeks, which is the language that the Revelation was written. We don't doubt that John was writing metaphorically, allowing numbers to work as symbols. Therefore, Nate and Widstoe's thinking are surely in line with our understanding of the Apocalypse of John.

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering if Adam looks at that picture and says "what the Heck???? don't I deserve any respect? I mean I was the first "man"..." that's what I wonder...

And no, I'm not putting my name on the comment.

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