Origins of the Earth and Genesis

HubbleThis guest post is written by a friend of mine, Ken Cluff, who expressed some interest in writing for M* to share some of his thoughts on science and religion. Ken recently made another guest post here about his Mormon website app: LDS Advocate.

Lately, I’ve been going to the temple weekly to get the ordinance work done for a large number of names my mother has gathered in her ongoing genealogical research. This frequency of attending has given me many opportunities to ponder the creation story. At the same time, I’m a science geek and writer of hard sci-fi. The evidence scientists have observed about the origins of the universe is something I’m particularly interested in, especially as it relates to the Earth’s origins.

It’s axiomatic to say the aims of science and religion are the same, the pursuit of truth. Though science tends to be driven by doubt and religion by faith, they both move forward by asking questions. My expectation is that as we come to know the truth of things, we’ll see they both say the same thing… just from different paradigms. From where I sit, science answers and fills in the “what” while religion answers the “why.”

I think that can be seen in the origins of the universe and the Earth. This series of blog posts will examine this “convergence” of science and religion on that one topic. I’d love to have you come along and give your comments as we go. We’ll take the creation story day bay day. So, here’s the first day:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And 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. (Genesis 1:1-2)

The creation stories available to us all tell the same story with just a few variations. They have a common thread in that they are told as if being recounted by an observer who stood upon the Earth’s surface watching things occur. In this blog, I’ll recount the events from a vantage point in space, near the Earth.

While I believe there are the creative periods, I disagree with the interpretation that each one denotes a literal day. A more figurative approach fits events better: a creative period is just that, a phase in a process that takes a very long time to occur. From the perspective of a being who is eternal, whether that’s a day, a thousand years, or a billion, it’s still a period of time that, in the grand scheme of things, is not that long. After all God is, if nothing else, patient: if you want proof consider that He puts up with all of us.

Before the earth formed, it existed as part of a cloud of gas comprised of hydrogen, helium, lighter elements, and a scattering of heavier elements that were the debris from a near by supernova. How better to describe it than being without form? At the big bang, it started out as a mass of sub-atomic particles too energetic and hot to form into even protons. Then the entire cosmos as we know it was too hot to be anything but an opaque fog of super-heated sub-atomic particles. Surely that’s without form and void too!

As the universe expanded, it cooled enough for protons and other basic particles to form, not a lot, since just five percent of the mass of the universe coalesced into particles we understand as matter, but it was enough. The first stars formed. These behemoths were formed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium and most likely died as fantastic supernovae scattering heavier elements throughout the universe and galaxy. It would take another generation of stars born of the remnants of these early stars to form and explode as supernovae before there were enough heavier elements for life as we know to form.

And so it happened. Maybe it was God using the ripple of a gravity wave cause by an exploding star that started it, but our solar system began to form. The sun first and then Jupiter and then a set of hot Jupiters close into the sun. No earth yet. Because of the density of the gas, it acted as a brake, slowing Jupiter and causing it to spiral in towards the sun. As it did, it gravitationally interacted with these other inner planets either ejecting them from the solar system, breaking them apart or throwing them into the sun. We’re not sure, but somewhere during this process, Saturn formed and it began an intricate dance with Jupiter which eventually led to it and Jupiter being flung away from the sun into their current orbits.

In the process though, Jupiter had swept the inner system of most of the gas that was there, but gravity being gravity and Heavenly Father being who He is, several small planets formed from what remained. In all likelihood, when the Earth first formed, it had an opaque gaseous envelope, much like Neptune but with a rocky core buried under many hundreds of miles of hydrogen and helium.

At this point, we reenter the Biblical narrative. Standing on the surface of the Earth, it was a dark place devoid of life and barren, which also fits the Genesis narrative. There may have been surface water or it may have been held in the thick atmosphere surrounding the planet, we’re not sure, but in either case it was a dark, hot, desolate place.

And God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1: 3-4)

Science isn’t sure on what happened next to cause the atmosphere to boil away. Some argue it started out thin, but the biblical narrative says otherwise. The theories which agree with the Bible indicate radiation from a near by supernova or large star or instabilities in the sun’s output as it contracted and ignited may have led to the earth’s atmosphere boiling away. Regardless of the source, it was light and radiation which played the next part in the Earth’s formation… stay tuned.


60 thoughts on “Origins of the Earth and Genesis

  1. I’d not heard of the word until you mentioned it, but I do accept the underlying meaning of “concordism” only so far as once we know the whole story from “Science’s” point of view, we’ll see that it and revealed truth will tell the same story about the creation of the Earth.

    I’m not trying to force the creation story into what “science” currently says about Earth’s origins because it’s readily apparent, when you study the “science” narrative that “science” really doesn’t know much and is just making a lot of guesses right now.

  2. “science answers and fills in the ‘what’ while religion answers the ‘why.'”


    This is why it’s silly for folks to claim that religion is not valid based on some recent scientific discovery.

    As for science being incompatible with something a person learned in Sunday School, I would first question whether the provenance of the Sunday School teaching is clearly from God and expressed in rigorous scientific terms. If not, it is possible that a truth was mangled and/or vaguely misconstrued by the time it reached the ears of the Sunday School student.

  3. Visualizations presented to faithful temple attenders seem to imply that creation took place on a scale that we barely comprehend. When we tell stories to children we simplify. Science has barely begun with what, and as we mature God will give us more of the why.

  4. I don’t see science as a doubt based philosiphy when compared to religion. The basis of science is simply the scientific meathod where a theory is postulated then tested for results. Same as religion. The real distinguishment we are discussing is weither we are testing natural or super-natural theories.

  5. I see the Creation story in Genesis 1 as mostly figurative. In fact, there are several versions of the Creation story in the scriptures, 4 in the Bible, alone. Proverbs speaks of God creating the world via Wisdom (his consort). Isaiah and Psalms discuss God’s creating Order through destroying Leviathan/Chaos.

    Genesis 2 is a secondary Creation story, separate from Genesis 1. Most scholars believe that two different factions gave us the two main Creation stories in the Bible, focusing on the aspects most important to them.

    Their view of the world was a three-tiered universe: Heavens, Earth, Underworld. The watery expanses were divided, with the heavens holding lots of water – later released to flood the earth in Noah’s day.

    Why would God give us figurative Creation stories? Because ancient peoples did not understand science, they understood symbolism, and symbolism is a more important point towards displaying God’s grandeur and power.

    In this way, we see the “why” of God’s creation, even if it does not match the scientific creation story.

  6. I agree: there are several creation stories. Is one more correct than the other? Perhaps, but which one? I don’t see that it matters all that much. The process of creating this Earth is so complicated it would take several Bible’s worth of paper to describe it all, let alone a few chapters. I haven’t stated it clearly, but the thesis for this series is the creation story God revealed is NOT figurative. It’s not complete or comprehensive by any means and many fine points are glossed over for brevity and simplicity sake, but in the main points, it’s an accurate portrayal of what happened.

  7. I’m definitely more a philosopher than scientist, and in reading both the blog and comments I’m struck by the idea of there being some tension between “science” and “religion” as to the creation of the world. I suppose I’m more comfortable with “not-knowing” than many, but I have to wonder how much more “correct” the story that scientists tell us about the origins (if there is such a thing as an origin) than the story told by Moses, Abraham, or Joseph Smith. I know that the observer creates the story in this world–that is demonstrably so whether it is Stephen Hawking or an aboriginal Australian. Our culture has become obsessed with “knowing” and I often wonder what we as Latter-day Saints bring to this discussion, since it is clear that eternity is vast and that what we don’t know far outweighs what we think we know. Our mortality is so limited by space, by time, and by forces we only vaguely understand. How do we presume to interpret based on our limited minds and place in the eternal scheme? I’m not convinced there is such a thing as understanding the creation truly possible; our culture and our ability to understand dictates what we are told by a God who is far outside our own reality.

  8. For a long time, most Mormons believed the Book of Mormon was the history of all the indigent people of North and South America, and that all were full blooded descendants of Lehi. The Church’s description used to include this in the introduction.

    Now, most scholars and many LDS understand the Limited Geography Model, and the Church has changed the introduction to state that Lehi is just one ancestor of the American Indian.

    We too often try to over-interpret the data, force the historical/scientific link, etc.

    Genesis 1 notes “the earth was without form”, prior to the heavens being formed. This contradicts the Big Bang theory, wherein the earth and all things were compacted into one point, to suddenly explode into everything.

    Light and Darkness were divided prior to the Sun, Moon and stars were created. Earth was separated from the waters. This is a story of God conquering Chaos (darkness and water), not a scientific checklist of the things God needed to do to create the earth. It suggests the stars were made in “one day” after the earth was already here without form. That does not jibe with a 14 billion year old universe.

    That God created the grass, trees and other vegetation PRIOR to the creation of the Sun, creates another problem scientifically. How does grass grow without a sun?

    As I said, the Creation story is figurative. It teaches that God creates things one part at a time, and that his creations are good. In the Abraham version, the Gods command, and then wait for the elements to obey.

    As I stated, the story is figurative. It was not designed to be scientific. Science was unknown in Moses’ day, or even in Jesus’ day. That we can find some events in the Genesis 1 story that we can link into modern science is more likely due to chance than anything else. And then, we have to force feed it, and ignore key components (some of which I noted above and in my previous post).

  9. I tend to agree with Winona that we as latter-day Saints need to be comfortable with the fact that there is a lot more we don’t know than we do know. When I joined the Church I got into a very silly email discussion with an atheist friend of mine who went through Genesis and showed how “unscientific” it was because the creation story contradicted the known science. He used the example mentioned by Rame above that the grass and trees are created before the sun. In retrospect, the discussion was a huge waste of time because I did not then and do not know see Genesis as some kind of science textbook that needs to be defended on such grounds. It is a figurative story. The main takeaways I get are: The Earth was organized from existing elements; there were several periods of creation; Human beings are special creations because they were made in the Creator’s image, and we are a human family. And then notice how quickly the story becomes the classic, unending battle between following God and not following God with Cain and Abel.

    Was there a big bang or not? I don’t know, and Science doesn’t know for sure. How exactly was the Earth created? I don’t know and Science doesn’t know for sure. Did evolution play a part in creating life? Seems extremely likely, but Science doesn’t know exactly how that played out either.

    On the other side of the veil or after the resurrection I plan on attending many, many seminars on the creation of the Earth and the Solar System because I find it fascinating, but in the meantime I surrender to the greater knowledge that there is much more I don’t know than I do know.

  10. My guess is that on the other side of the veil, we’ll remember it clearly because we watched it in real time. On another point, when you add to the creation story, God’s conversation with Moses about other worlds, it’s self-evident the stars existed long before the Earth. My take away from that.. which I’ll discuss in the third day’s post, is the stars and sun were already there, it’s just that they became visible to an observer on the ground during that period.

  11. Ken, You are assuming that the Old Testament is in some way a history book. Another theory is that it is a work of ancient literature. The Israelites saw God in everything. John Walton points out in his excellent book The Lost World of Genesis One that the creation account is most likely a discussion of function rather than formation, as material creation was unimportant to the culture.

    At no time did the ancient Israelites see their scripture as a description of the formation of the earth as many are prone to do now. When viewed as a description of function, many of the controversies disappear.

    Acknowledging that the Old Testament is an attempt to describe the function of the Israelite world is very important in order to extract meaning that harmonizes with the meaning the Israelites saw in their scripture.

    The Israelites did not live in a vacuum. They borrowed literature and symbolism from their adopted cultures. The Genesis One creation account mirrors Babylonian creation accounts and Noah and the Flood mirrors prevalent antediluvian tales of the era.

    Jonah and the Whale is likely satire rather than “literal.”

    The Bible and Genesis in particular become richer when seen as temple text than some sort of creative telling of material creation. To truly understand the Bilble, one must study cultures and languages of the era. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Thankfully, there is awesome academic literature out there published by scholars who have.

  12. Laura,

    While I agree with most of what you said, I am curious about one thing you said that I hear all the time, but really haven’t heard good data backing it up yet: “At no time did the ancient Israelites see their scripture as a description of the formation of the earth as many are prone to do now”

    Is that really true? What’s the basis for people making that claim?

    I ask because I did a review of Karen Armstrong’s “The Case for God” (found on this blog) where she makes that claim at length and I personally found her evidence for it to be overtly cherry picked and problematic. It seems very likely to me that the ancients *did* for the most part take these accounts quite literally — even when it contradicted other such accounts that they also took literally. We know for sure that’s precisely how the medieval, for example, understood it. All quite literally.

    There were, of course, counter examples where more educated types sometimes did take it all figuratively. And of course, even those that do take the creation account ‘literally’ also tend to see figures and symbols in it also. (Not unlike how someone can take Moses as a literal person and also a symbol of Christ, for example.) But we need to keep in mind the vast majority of the ancients were not educated types. So the idea that the ancients were all sitting around only thinking of these stories figuratively seems like a *huge* stretch based only on the fact that you can demonstrate that there was the occasional ancient that thought it all just figurative. (i.e. Armstrong’s argument in a nutshell.)

    Worse yet, its just isn’t hard to show that, for example, the NT writers DID take it all quite literally for the most part. (Or, to be more precise, any time a NT writer references the creation story, it seems to me they take it literally in every case I am aware of. But, of course, they don’t reference that much, so there is some room for interpretation here. But even the references to Jonah are treated with straight faced literalism, including by Jesus Himself.)

    I suppose its possible Armstrong ‘missed the good evidence’ but that seems unlikely to me. So I’m wondering if you have some better evidence than she did or not.

    My apologies on this. When someone say “I agree with what you said for the most part” they are, of course, picking out the one thing they aren’t sure they agree with and making an issue of only that. Which is, in a sense, quite unfair.

  13. For more than 27 years, Russell M. Nelson has warned Church members against theories that would explain the creation of the earth and man without God’s direct and personal involvement. He has specifically mentioned such theories as natural selection, organic evolution, and the big bang. Using official Church publications, he has gone so far as to ask for volunteers to help overcome such “foolishness of men” within the Church.

  14. The scientific method, as a means of determining how to avoid discomfort and death is as old as mankind. Most people who applied it became known as ‘wise’ and others followed their advice. On the other hand, modern ‘science’ is too often based on prestige and politics. Even where science is still the handmaid of unbiased inquiry, the book canot be closed because we develop ever more powerful and effective means of carrying out investigation. Modern ‘science’ also has a bias against what is seen as supernatural. Thus a scientist might postulate the organizing principle of a ‘super intelligence’ (Hoyle) but will not call it God.

  15. Dan Peterson gave an excellent lecture last week at the Fair Conference which addressed some of these concerns. He specifically pointed out, borrowing the words of Fred Hoyle an atheist astrophysicist, that someone was monkeying with the physics in order for life as we currently enjoy to develop after the Big Bang. He cited a series of physical constants which have to be what they are for us to exist. He emphasized the point by saying the window of values which they could be and still allow life to exist are so narrow that life generating purely by random is more unlikely than life being created by a supreme being… God.

    It leaves me with the conclusion God was intimately involved in managing the process we call the Big Bang and the formation of the Earth. Left to random chance, neither we nor the Earth would have ever come into existence.

  16. Bruce Nielson the use of “literal” was a poor choice of a word on my part. I meant strictly historical. Read the first half of The Lost World of Genesis One, and it will answer your question.

    Here is a great blog on the topic. Skim down to the part about Lot. The story was inserted to explain something to the people. They “literally” believed the story explained a question they had, but it is doubtful it is historical. Thank heavens.

  17. Laura,

    I should have known your answer would be to read a book. 🙂 Something like this isn’t easily answered in a post, so I’ll be happy to add this book to my very very large list of books to read in the future. And maybe that’s the best you can describe your position at the moment.

    That being said, I’m still not sure you understand my question to you. For example, “They “literally” believed the story explained a question they had, but it is doubtful it is historical”

    Right. Of course. I have no doubt whatsoever that the ancients thought that a story like Lot was mean to explain a question. And I also have no doubt that it is doubtful it is historical. The whole Bible is doubtful in its historicity throughout when scholarship is applied to it.

    But what I want to know is if the *ancients* thought it was doubtful in its historicity. I perceive you as saying “yes, the ancients didn’t think of it as historical.” Is that what you are claiming?

    If that is what you are saying, then I’m extremely doubtful that position could ever turn out to be actually true, however helpful it might be to us modernly to work out differences between Jewish myth and science. In short, I’m directly challenging the ‘historicity’ of this particular hypothesis that the ancients (for the most part) didn’t see their myths as historical.

    Could it really be that most ancients heard stories like that of Lot and his wife and thought “this is just a story to answer a question, it isn’t really historical.” I find this so incredibly hard to believe. I’m not even sure the human psyche is capable of such myth vs historical distinctions absent a considerable attempt to educate people on such a distinction on a regular basis. That’s why I’m so incredulous of this claim – if it is in fact what you are claiming.

    As I mentioned previously, the NT authors – who are of course ancients – never seem to take that attitude at all. Consider Jesus’ own treatment of Lot:

    It’s hard to even imagine how to read this passage with the idea in mind that Jesus neither intended for listeners to think of Lot as a historical figure and also that his listeners all felt the same way. It seems to me that Jesus very much did believe Lot to be a historical figure and intended for his audience to believe the same thing. I can think of no counter examples of this attitude within the NT. Therefore, I’m extremely doubtful of the idea that the ancients, for the most part, didn’t think of their myths as historical. I doubt they differentiated in such a way at all. I think they did indeed think of all their myths as quite literal and quite historical.

    Having said that, I admit to having no expertise in this area. So my ‘challenge’ to you is honestly a sincere attempt to find the best evidence for this position (if it is even what you are claiming) so that I understand it better and can make up my own mind. Not an attempt to challenge your beliefs at all.

    Also, the link you sent makes only the case that we moderns should not consider it history, not that the ancients did not. This is probably wise, but didn’t really answer my question.

  18. Rame,

    My discussion with Laura is relevant to your point, and is not merely a tangent to the overall discussion.

    You are taking the position that the creation account has little relevance to being an actual description of how the earth was created. And perhaps you are right, I don’t know. It is certainly hard to match it up to our science right now.

    However, take a look at the link Laura put up to Ben’s article on Lot. He makes the point that the story of Lot and his daughter’s was really ancient Israel’s way of saying “The Moabites and Edomites are our incestuous bastard distant cousins” and that therefore we can more or less ignore the account as being historical.

    That seems likely to me. Daughter’s having sex with their fathers (with the father not even being conscious now mind you) would be incredibly odd events. So it is certainly more likely that the event isn’t historical. But note that this story is *meant to answer a question* BUT *answers it falsely*! The fact that it isn’t historical doesn’t mean we can take some spiritual truth from it, it just makes it a false story not worthy of further consideration to a modern audience. If there is some spiritual truth here, I do not see what it is.

    That question I have for you is how can we, as Mormons make sense of a creation story that apparently has no truth content scientifically speaking, yet was specifically given to Moses as a revelation (according to the Book of Moses) and Abraham. We can’t merely say “well, it got passed down by humans” like our Christian neighbors can. The creation account is more than that to Mormons. Why wouldn’t God at least try to make the story match what really happened, even if being put into child-speak? Is it really so hard to do so?

    You are taking a certain position, but it is not a position that is without its own problems that need to be answered. Why would God reveal a wholly untrue version (from a scientific perspective) to the ancients rather than a more or less true one in their own language (in which case, Ken’s posts make sense — he’s trying to find the true correlations.)

    And if God did reveal a factually false history, how are we to make sense of the “truths” in the account. How are we to differentiate between the truth parts and frankly the false parts? And what are the truth parts? For all of the times I’ve heard people say “its giving us only spiritual truths through symbols” I’m less than clear what those symbols are and what they mean.

    This is why I published Ken’s post. I do not agree with it and I think its a bunch of poppycock, but its the *right sort of poppycock.* He’s trying to make sense of why God would tell this creation story via positing that maybe it had some truth to it, but was in fact being said in ‘child language.’ If he’s right — I don’t know that he is — it immediately solves the problems of your position that I just listed. In short, probably both positions have their own problems to solve. Both positions deserve from discussion and consideration.

  19. The way I’ve come to see the creation of the Earth is that science provides a scientific description of the creation of the Earth while scripture provides a liturgical description. In my opinion it is a mistake to attempt to reconcile the two because those who authored the scriptural/liturgical account did so at a time when mankind had not yet developed a scientific understanding of the world. Humans did not yet have a scientific outlook, so to impose that on the ancients is a mistake. It’s the old square peg in a round hole problem – you’re trying to force together two incompatible world views. That’s not to say that one is inherently better than the other – they serve two different purposes.

  20. Matt Hughes,

    “The creation of a paradisiacal planet came from God. Mortality and death came into the world through the Fall of Adam.”

    President Russell M. Nelson made the above statements at a time when mankind indeed had developed present scientific theories about the origin of earth. But President Nelson rejects those theories, none of which can be twisted to explain the origin of a paradisiacal planet.

  21. I actually think R. Gary is making points worth discussing. And I think he’s essentially correct in his assessment of previous church teachings on the subject. So how does that fit into other people’s views?

  22. Ken,

    I have no problem with Fred Hoyle’s quote about someone tinkering with the physics. My issue is with the contention that Genesis One is a description of that process. To me, Genesis One is much more logical if seen as a temple text. Honestly, I don’t think the Israelites could care less how the earth was made.


  23. Bruce,

    Whether Lot’s wife actually physically turned to salt or it was a metaphor makes no difference to the message of the story. I don’t think that Christ would have a problem teaching with parables or metaphors familiar to the people.


  24. God and Jesus generally adapt the views of the culture they are teaching to, in order to make certain points. Remove yourself from that culture, and you’re unlikely to grasp the points they’re making. They were not big on correcting the state of knowledge of those cultures.

    You do need to do some reading on this.

    “how can we, as Mormons make sense of a creation story that apparently has no truth content scientifically speaking, yet was specifically given to Moses as a revelation (according to the Book of Moses) and Abraham.”

    Why should ancient revelation have modern scientific content? What possible spiritual relevance might planetary orbits have? The problem is, you’re asking modern questions of an ancient text. What you should be doing is, what were the ancient questions that the text answered?

  25. Lot’s daughters deliberately made him drunk because they wanted to preserve his posterity. There is no mention of Lot being unconscious, but he no longer had his inhibitions. I had a friend whose parents taunted her that she was fortunate to exist because if it had not been for a night of drunkeness, she never would have been conceived (yes, lousy parents). I have no problem accepting the story of Lot as historical. As for his wife turning to salt because she looked back, there are explanations for that.
    I think it is not so much the stories that we have that create the disjunction but the ‘rest of the story’ that we don’t have at this time. After reading the earlier comments in this thread I spent the afternoon at the temple and I found nothing in the temple that directly contradicts the scientific account of creation, other than the motivating and designing function of God for the events that materialistic scientists designate as accident.

  26. Bruce, good questions and comments.

    First, I think President Nelson has a concern with any theory that cannot include a historical Adam and Eve, or the Fall, is problematic. I agree with that assessment. However, I do not think he tries hard enough to consider how the scientific record can fit in. For example, we believe (or should believe) that Lehi is the cultural ancestor of the American Indian, regardless of whether they carry his DNA or not. This fits in with Nephites adopting Mulekites and Zoramites, Nephi adopting Sam’s family, and other cultural adaptations that increased the size of the Nephite dynasty. Adam is our cultural father of the earth, the first to have the fulness of the gospel and to preach it to his children (both genetic and cultural).

    I often think we try to fit things together in the wrong direction. Brant Gardner, Mesoamerican/BoM scholar, seeks to find Mesoamerican culture and events within the pages of the BoM, rather than finding BoM artifacts within Mesoamerica. I think he’s on the right page, as we do not know how to differentiate a Nephite pot from a Mayan pot. We can recognize Mayan events within the text, however.

    So we can do the same with the Creation. We look at science and try to understand how science fits within the Creation stories of the scriptures, understanding that we may find bits and pieces, but not the whole story.

    With Pres Nelson, I believe Adam to be a historic person. However, I believe (as did Hugh Nibley) that the earth has gone thru a variety of creation/destruction cycles. Each destruction was followed by a new creation. 250 million years ago, a disaster occurred that wiped out 90 percent, but opened the door for dinosaurs. 60 million years ago, dinosaurs were wiped out by a disaster, opening the door for mammals. 15,000 years ago, an Ice Age occurred that wiped out mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed tigers and dozens of other species. Neanderthals disappeared in the same time period. This opened the door for the first humans (Brigham Young’s Pre-Adamites), and more importantly, an historic Adam.

    We need to realize that the current Pentateuch was written by a variety of authors (J, E, P, D, R). There are at least 2 major Creation stories (Gene 1 and 2). There are two Flood stories interwoven together. Moses goes twice to Meribah and gets water from a rock. All are strong evidences that different groups of Israelites had different oral traditions on the Creation and origins of Israel. The Creation stories become important as history (whether historical or not), is that it gives Israel its founding story. God called special people at times to implement his People and Covenants. Each time God did this anew, there was a new figurative “Creation” for people to ponder upon. Moses’ miracles and controlling chaos at the Red Sea are strong ties to the original Creation. So God attempted several times to establish His people, but each time it failed. However, Israel was going to be different. Israel would not be replaced.

    Because our chapels are so plain and simple, Mormons do not have much of a chance to learn and understand symbolism Yet our temples are full of paintings, symbols, and creation. We are even told that some of it is figurative. Why? Because such stories of Creation, whether in Genesis 1, or the Creation of Israel at the Red Sea, gives Israel a history tied to Yahweh. For Israel, this is the only important function of history – seeing how God interacts with his people.

  27. Rame,

    I think your long answer hits in the direction I was hoping, i.e. a discussion about what we *are* supposed to be getting out of a creation story that doesn’t correspond to the actual creation. And I can appreciate where you are going with your answer.


    “God and Jesus generally adapt the views of the culture they are teaching to, in order to make certain points. Remove yourself from that culture, and you’re unlikely to grasp the points they’re making. They were not big on correcting the state of knowledge of those cultures. ”

    That is a clear statement of your beliefs (I happen to share, btw) though I would point out that not everyone is going to agree with you. Nor is there any particular reason they should. (Pat doesn’t, for example.)

    However, I don’t feel you are really addressing the issues of your position here. For example, you say the following:

    “Why should ancient revelation have modern scientific content?”
    Well, why wouldn’t it? That’s for you, within your point of view, to explain. You can’t just ask it of me like its obvious. It’s not obvious. I see no logical reason at all that God — who does understand the actual creation and how it happened — can’t explain it in child language to ancient people. For some reason (if I take your point of view as accurate for the moment) God didn’t do that. Why not? It is not at all obvious to me why he wouldn’t. Your statement above — that God does not correct false cultural knowledge — partially explains this, though obviously the next question is “well, why doesn’t he?” You have your own chain of issues to address here.

    “What possible spiritual relevance might planetary orbits have?”
    But this is just a strawman. God could have given a simplistic but true account of creation without mentioning planetary orbits.

    “The problem is, you’re asking modern questions of an ancient text.”
    But Ben, it’s not clear why I shouldn’t ask modern questions of an ancient revelatory text. Again, you’re *assuming* this is the wrong thing to do and pretending its obvious when in fact it isn’t obvious at all.

    Ben, I would love to find out that Ken and Pat are more on the right track and that there is some sort of scientific undertone to the ancient creation accounts. But I’m fairly certain there isn’t. So that places me in the Pat / Ken camp in my heart and in yours, Rame’s, and Laura’s camp in my head. But I think you are with far too much ease dismissing the very real problems of the position your are presenting.

    And you’re right, I need to read more on this subject. Because honestly I don’t feel I have a comfortable answer as of yet here. Thus the mismatch between my head and heart on this one.

  28. Rame, on the creation destruction cycles, I didn’t know Nibley championed that. I read it from BH Roberts, though. Can you give me some references?

  29. One problem with reading a lot of books is that you can rarely remember exactly where each reference came from. I think either “Earth in the Beginning” or “This Eternal Earth” covers the Genesis Story with a heavy dash of scientific background. The author posits that the statement “Let there be light” could have been the primal power that initiated the Big Bang. There is a lot of the creation story that ties in heavily with scientific theory and Dead Sea Scrolls principles detailing storehouses of life and how stars and planets are created and recycled.

    There was also a statement in whichever book that Brother Brigham taught that the Earth actually existed near God’s throne prior to the Fall and that the Fall was a change of not only state, but location as well. I wish I could remember exactly how it worked, but if the Earth and the Moon had been in their respective positions in the sky for millions of years, there is a harmonic that does not exist but should or a harmonic that should exist but doesn’t.

    There is also a discussion about Brother Joseph’s comment about how a veil surrounds God’s throne and if it didn’t exist, we would all be killed by His glory. Astronomy has found that there seems to be a gas cloud at the center of the Milky Way that shields a number of super star clusters that have enough radiation to kill all life in the Galaxy were it not for the cloud. The author never ties the two together conclusively, but it does give you pause.

    For what it’s worth, galaxy is a Greek word meaning “Milky Way”, which gets its origin from the Hercules tale, I think. So, there’s a good chance if you use the phrase Milky Way galaxy, you might get a visit from the Department of Redundancy Department.

  30. Incidentally, The Book of Abraham seems to indicate that God has no particular problem with teaching ancient people about something like planetary orbits. Well, the rotation of planets, in any case. So if we’re taking the BoA as accurate, then it is not at all clear that God does not correct ancient cultural knowledge with more scientifically viable information. Compare also to

  31. Laura,

    My apologies if I’m pushing you too far on this. I will stop if you want me to.

    I’m still not clear if you are taking the position that the ancients didn’t take their myths as historical. Instead you just say that whether Lot’s wife actually physically turned to salt or it was a metaphor makes no difference to the message of the story. And the you added that you don’t think that Christ would have a problem teaching with parables or metaphors familiar to the people.

    That’s fine, as far as it goes, but that might mean that Jesus knew it was just a metaphor and his audience didn’t. (There are obvious moral issues to address with such a position, though I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility, I suppose.) What I’m really questioning is the idea that Jesus and the disciples all knew it was all just a metaphor. Which is what I perceived you as claiming.

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that is the case and try to read the Bible passage in question that way. Let’s pretend that both Jesus and his disciples all know that the story of Noah and Lot is just a metaphor. Would they really then talk in the following language?

    25 But first must [the Son of Man] suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. [Note: A prophecy meant both literally and historically]

    26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man [i.e. second coming]. [Do I read this as in the days of Jesus’ 2nd coming it will be like that of the ahistorical days of the purely metaphorical Noah? Guess that might work, but its hard to imagine this easy mixing of fiction and reality as if there is no difference between fiction and reality. And as the passage goes on, this reading — at least to me — becomes increasingly uncomfortable]

    27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

    28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

    29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. [When Jesus returns, its going to be like the two ahistorical myths of Noah and Lot where God will suddenly destroy the wicked? Again, a easy mixing of fiction and reality like this is sort of stunning to me if this hypothesis is correct. Its like a GA today saying “when Jesus returns, there will be great destruction, even like unto Lord of the Rings” etc. It seems like it fully removes the weight of what is being said. Its so much more powerful to refer to it being like the days of Noah on the assumption that Noah is in fact a historical figure and that God really did destroy the wicked quite literally during the days of Noah and Lot.]

    30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. [Clearly intended to be a literal and historical event here]

    31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. [Again, clearly referencing what is supposed to be literal and historical future events in the end days]

    32 Remember Lot’s wife. [Isn’t this like saying “You need to be righteous or remember what happened to Sauron and how he got destroyed?” Again, its very difficult to imagine such an easy mixing of known fiction right in a completely serious context of what is going to happen in the future.]

    I am not denying you might be right (assuming I’m even reading you correctly) but I hope you can at least acknowledge why it doesn’t come across at all like we’re dealing with Jesus referring knowingly to ahistorical myths to an audience that also understands them to be ahistorical myths. The whole of it reads very much like all parties think they are historical. If I can accept that your position is at least a possibility, can you acknowledge the legitimacy of my discomfort with that position given how the passage actually reads?

  32. Pantheril, I’ve studied closely the Dead Sea Scrolls over the years, and do not recall reading anything in regards to scientific theory of the Creation. The DSS speak little about the Creation or the movements of planets, etc.

    Bruce, I actually meant to write Talmage in regards to cycles of creation/destruction, as he (along with BH Roberts) suggested this. However, Nibley seems to accept Pre-Adamites and cycles of animals being upon the earth prior to Adam’s creation cycle.

    Nibley did accept the concept that the Flood may have been a local, rather than global flood. He states that for Noah, the world around him seemed to be totally flooded, and so Noah’s story would come down as such.

    The Book of Abraham, as Bruce notes, does speak of planetary cycles, etc. This is obviously due to Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt, where the Egyptians spent much time studying astronomy/astrology. Josephus notes that Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians, perhaps as a way to get on their good side in trying to get his wife, Sarah, back. We must remember that God gives insight to the level people are ready to receive. That Abraham’s revelation did not make it into the Bible suggests that the details were lost long ago, perhaps never making it out of Egypt. That the Bible creation story is very different than Abraham’s suggests that the focus was on non-scientific spiritual considerations: how did God come to choose Israel as His Chosen People.

  33. Rame,

    I did not intend to imply that the DSS did. The “and” was intended to convey different source materials, not that the DSS taught science.

  34. “This is obviously due to Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt, where the Egyptians spent much time studying astronomy/astrology”

    Rame, this is a very interesting thought and I like it. However, I assume that the Egyptians, even if they did spend much time studying astronomy/astrology, did not know about the earth’s revolutions and had no real concept of Copernican orbits, right? So wouldn’t that still then be an example of God revealing scientifically accurate data to a culture that didn’t already know about it?

  35. I am amused.

    What happened is what happened. And God knows what that was. I have hope that in some future time I will be fully privy to whatever that was, in a fullness that excludes no truth, whether “scientific” or “religious.”

    Back to your grand debates about things in the vastly distant past.

    I will only say one thing. The God I worship and the Church He caused to be established are not subject to being proved “false” by any scientific method.

  36. Bruce, manyLDS scholars read the BoA account of the planets as suggesting an earth-centric, rather than helio-centric belief. Given that consideration, the Egyptians would not have to believe that the earth does not stand still.

    There is some consideration on Pres Nelson’s disbelief in evolution on the two following possibilities. First, the Garden of Eden may not have been a part of the earth until after the Fall, floating somewhere near the orbit of Kolob. It would allow the Fall to occur within Adam’s realm, but not on the rest of the earth. Second, I noted Elder Holland’s talk in last General Conference, where he says that he doesn’t know how old the earth is, or how exactly it was formed. He just knows that Adam was a historical person. Clearly, we do not see a perfect agreement among the Twelve.

  37. rameumptom: Elder Holland spoke about what he himself knows, he did NOT say “nobody knows.” And yes, it is possible to conjure up an explanation of the Fall that doesn’t require “the creation of a paradisiacal planet.” But true doctrine is not found by extrapolating isolated quotes. True doctrine is thoroughly explained over and over in scripture and the words of living prophets.

  38. R. Gary, I agree with what connotes “true doctrine.” The current Doctrine of the Church regarding evolution is that it has no position on it. This has been the stance for almost a century. That President Nelson states his opinion is fine, as long as realize it does not trump the Church’s official stance.

    And I believe that no one knows for certain, otherwise the Church would have established a doctrine that combines all aspects. As it is, we only know that Adam was historical, and that the Fall occurred. The details are all speculation on both sides of the issue.

  39. rameumptom: A formal First Presidency statement was issued in 1909 under the title, “The Origin of Man.” It was abridged by the 1925 First Presidency under the title, “Mormon View of Evolution.” By their titles alone, we can see that both of these statements are about human evolution.

    This was affirmed in 1992 by the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve when, as members of the BYU Board of Trustees, they named the 1909 and 1925 statements and said: “These documents make clear the official position of the Church regarding the origin of man.”

    The 1909 statement was reprinted in the February 2002 Ensign magazine and introdiced as the Church’s doctrinal position on evolution. In was introduced as follows:

    “In the early 1900s, questions concerning the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution became the subject of much public discussion. In the midst of these controversies, the First Presidency issued the following in 1909, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position on these matters.”

    Elsewhere in the same magazine the 1909 statement is identified as “the Church’s official teachings on the creation of mankind and evolution.”

    Thus it seems clear that the Church itself claims to have an (1) official and (2) doctrinal position on evolution.

    But is it a “no position” position?

    For more than forty years, Duane Jeffery has been a de facto spokesman for Mormon evolutionists. His well respected and often referred to article, “Seers, Savants, and Evolution: The Uncomfortable Interface,” was published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 [Autumn-Winter 1973], 41-75. The article was announced to the whole Church in the Ensign (Dec. 1975, 71) and to the Mormon academic community in BYU Studies (Vol. 15, No. 4, Summer 1975, 532). The article’s respectability was enhanced when it appeared in the bibliographies of four Encyclopedia of Mormonism articles.

    In his 2005 book, Mormonism and Evolution, Duane Jeffery calls the language of the 1909 statement “anti-science.” In the Deseret News the following year, Jeffrey called the 1909 language “quite anti-evolutionary” (Deseret News, Mar. 1, 2006.)

  40. A garden was created ‘eastward in Eden’ after everything else had been completed. Then when Eve and Adam made the choice to eat of the fruit that bestowed the knowledge of good and evil they were driven out of the garden. So it is not difficult to see that the Garden was a place set apart from an existing environment where life in all its variety proceeded. Were there proto-humans in that wild environment. The sculptures referring to the ‘sons of God’ coming in unto the ‘daughters of men’ who bore children hints at such a possibility to those who can’t believe it was a sin of angels as many Christian scriptural literalists read the passage. Was the flood a local phenomenon that left many other than Noah to populate the ends of the earth? Was Lehi as well as the Jaredites led to this continent to inoculate the inhabitants with the bloodline that would bring them into the family?
    There is a world of speculation available for any who choose to let imagination soar. At this point in time the mixing of the seed of Abraham (and Adam?) has pretty much been accomplished througout the earth.
    In any case I truly believe that all we now call human are saved by the atonement if they will. I can be playful with scenarios but I look forward to recalling all of it. Then I will likely smile somewhat ruefully and murmur “Of course. I should have figured it out.”

  41. Rame, I think at a minimum, BoA does teach of times being linked to planets, i.e. rotation of the earth. Heliocentric or not, we’re still talking about somewhat advanced (for the time) scientifically accurate revelations. So it is at a minimum, not obvious that God does not reveal truth about things like this. So the assumption that the creation story does not and would not do so, is not immediately obvious. (Even if true.)

  42. R. Gary,

    Its been a long time since I read the statement you mentioned. But I don’t recall it specifically addressing evolution except *possibly* indirectly. Do you want to explain what you are getting at further?

  43. Bruce, I think that the Lord revealed to Abraham a type of science that the people of the day in Egypt could comprehend. You’ll note that even the moon is above the earth in the time, which may or may not be correct scientifically, but would fit the Egyptian studies in astronomy.

    As I noted before, the 1909 and 1925 statements basically draw a separation line between religion and science, allowing BYU to teach evolution in biology classes, while teaching forms of creationism in religion classes. Some GAs have been very vocal, but mostly about insisting that Adam was created by God and through Adam came the Fall. There are ways to work this along with the evolution theories out there.

  44. rameumptom: Two years after issuing the 1909 statement, Joseph F. Smith publicly berated three BYU instructors who had, he said, “advanced certain theories on evolution as applied to the origin of man.” And when their ideas came into conflict with scripture, he said, they apparently decided that “it required the modification of the latter to come into harmony with the former.” But he, Joseph F. Smith, disagreed and cancelled the BYU evolution courses. He said, “Teachers in a Church school [should] not be given opportunity to inculcate theories that [are] out of harmony with the recognized doctrines of the Church, and hence that they be required to refrain from so doing.”

    Many years later, while serving as Church President and Chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees, Harold B. Lee summarized the 1911 cancellation of BYU evolution courses in these words:

    “The doctrine of evolution … has been long a bone of contention so serious that in the earlier years when Darwin’s theory first was enunciated [at BYU], a number of professors … were released because of their unwillingness to teach the theory and then counter by delivering the true doctrines of the gospel.”

    And thus it was that for sixty years, between 1911 and 1971, evolution courses were not taught at BYU. So, rameumptom, perhaps you could elaborate further on the role that the 1909 statement (and its 1925 abridgement) played in allowing BYU to teach evolution.

  45. We want to know more about how the universe and the earth came to be. After seeing all the explanations I’ve seen, I still think the best explanation is found in the scriptures and in Genesis. The big bang theory doesn’t really help me understand things better. I’m appreciative of bona fide scientific discovery, but I think the big bang is unlikely to affect our lives, (and I’m not even sure it can be falsified, so I have doubts about it as a theory). I can accept evolution that is not by random chance, although I tend to hope that mankind (Adam and Eve- the first humans) didn’t get formed from some process of evolving from other (different or lower life forms). That doesn’t mean they didn’t, but it just wouldn’t seem as ‘right’ for me.

    To me, it’s sad that even in the church, when we talk about the creation, it’s so often to pay homage to ‘science’ in one form or another– as if the purpose of our religious inquiry was to figure out how to fit it into the dominant scientific inquiries. This is because it’s taken as a forgone conclusion that the dominant theories of men are to be taken as axiomatic. My Elder’s quorum (or some in it) scornfully laughed at a statement of a former prophet, because it was seen as not fitting with the current scientific model. They were words from Joseph Fielding Smith talking about how there was no death before the fall, and he went on to say that he did not care about statements of scientists about dinosaurs to the contrary.

    The words of the prophets are often given no weight, and the words of scientists are not only accepted unquestioningly, but in the case of evolution, the meaning of the word evolution has become such a powerful shibboleth, that no definition of terms is allowed. It was Darwin’s theory that, by random mutation, all the myriad forms of life could come to be. I think that it makes a big difference whether life was created by chance.

  46. Jared,

    You are asking a profound question that has no easy answer. I could do an entire series of posts just on trying to address your question.

    But the best way to ask this question — so as to get to the heart of the matter — is to ask it this way:

    Why do we all *sometimes* put science over religion (i.e. if the two don’t match, we assume science is right) but other times not at all?

    I enjoy SteveP’s writing (he blogs on BCC) and he is staunchly in favor of evolution, but also wrote a whole article defending dualism, even though dualism is also at odds with our science — far more so than our theory of evolution, actually. He, for some reason, feels the need to defend evolution, but not our materialistic scientific view of mind. Why?

    Its tempting to say something like “well evolution has more scientific evidence in favor of it” but that is simply not the case. I think it is easy to demonstrate that the materialistic / computational view of mind has more and better scientific evidence in its favor than evolution does. So if it is not by rational means he favors one scientific theory over his religious beliefs but another he does not, what is the basis?

    Asked another way, what is it about evolution that has made it a cultural dividing point of science and religion while other scientific theories — even better established ones (like say the second law of thermodynamics) aren’t perceived as part of the scientific / religious divide at all? This despite the fact that the 2nd law is profoundly at odds with all major religious views in existence. The explanation clearly isn’t based on rationality, so what *is* it based on?

  47. Bruce,
    I don’t have a lot of scientific training, but I would say the second ‘law’of thermodynamics describes what usually happens, but not always, so it is not really a universal law. An exception would include when plants create sugar out of sunlight. (Though, bear in mind, I don’t know a math formula for the 2nd law) The reason why I think the 2nd ‘law’ is not really a law is that it posits an arrow of time that is supposed to be inherent in the physical law, but no other physical law (I mean law of physics) that I know of requires time as a directional parameter (what I mean is, except for gravity, which is due to the shape of space-time, so many laws are reversible- or indistinguishable as far as the direction of time, and I’m not sure there are any that are fundamentally irreversible).
    But probably more to the point that you brought up about materialism and evolution- in my opinion, materialism in general and evolution in particular gained ground as a result of religious decline, rather than causing religious decline because we had ‘found something out’ about the world (although there is some interplay I admit).
    Sometimes, it may be true, we all put what we see as science over our religious convictions. If it is religion that we know to be true, I think this is wrong.
    I have to disagree about the materialistic/computational view of mind having ‘more and better scientific evidence in its favor’ than evolution does. I think evolution can be ‘salvaged’ if it does not depend on random mutations – of course the question would be what predictive value would it have (I think it does not have much predictive value now). But the materialist theory of mind, as it is explained in Miracles by C.S. Lewis, undercuts its own authority to rationally theorize, or any possibility of a materialist living in a materialist world theorizing accurately in a trustworthy manner, by deny any possible grounds for trusting the relation of our minds’ ideas to reality. The materialist theory of mind is not true- it inherently denies the possibility of truth.
    Maybe you meant something else, though, than what is usually meant by materialism. Maybe there is a ‘Mormon materialism’ that is supposed to refer to the revealed teaching of Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants that ‘there is no such thing as immaterial matter’. If that is the case, I would say that is a misnomer that is unfortunate. Because to deny that there is immaterial matter, as Joseph Smith (and I) do, is not the same thing as to say, with the materialist, that our minds developed by chance.

  48. I love how cosmologists and astronomers are always being surprised as they find ever more depth of field through sophisticated telescopes and the use of computational methods that are possible with modern computing. As an artist and amateur carpenter I’m familiar with taking relatively chaotic materials and designing and organizing them into works of art or function. It is easy for me to look at nature and see the hand of the designer. From the Fibonacci Series that seems to determine how organic systems grow in many plants and animals to the wave links of sounds that make music to colors that please and excite us, I recognize a resonance with my own puny acts of creation. I have loved Joseph Smith’s description of finer matter as the definition of spirit. I recall when I first learned of plasma which is the scientific term for that type of matter that is more fine, if you will. I grew up hearing that there was gas, liquid and solid states of matter. I doubt we will find definitive answers to most of the questions that mankind ponders until we can actually meet in glorious congregations of cocreator’s. By the way Meg, Congratulations! ; )

  49. Yes – life is grand. Speaking of God and how things come to be, I will be enlightened at some future day regarding the hows and whys of that which certainly seems miraculous. For now I am content to believe that prayers of faith wrought what nature had so long denied, when me and mine had given up hope.

  50. Jared,

    Your plant example isn’t really a counter example to the 2nd law. Plants simply utilize an already existing body of order. I.e. the sun. This isn’t a violation of the 2nd law at all.

    And I wasn’t arguing that a materialistic view of mind is true, I was merely stating that there is more scientific evidence for it than there is for evolution through natural selection — a statement I stand behind and think can be demonstrated. Perhaps there is strong evidence for it (or at least stronger than for evolution) *and* it is still false. This is a distinct possibility.

    Bear in mind that I am also not assuming evolution through natural selection in its current form is necessarily true either, despite what I admit is ‘strong scientific evidence’ for it.

    I suppose either might be true, or might be false. Indeed they might be false despite any scientific evidence in favor of them. Or they might be true and reconcilable with religion in ways we’ve never yet thought of — despite arguments (i.e. Lewis) that seem like this is impossible. Religion and science might both turn out to be true in unexpected ways. I like to be open on questions like this.

    My only real point was that 2nd law and computational mind are both scientific theories more fundamental to science right now (under our current theories) than evolution through natural selection. 2nd law is terribly difficult to imagine not existing (though perhaps it is still not fundamental, despite our lack of imagination, even as you suggest.) And computationalism (i.e. the assumption that all things follow mathematically model-able laws) is so fundamental to science (particularly physics) that to discover that minds do not follow that rule would effectively be a disproof of science as we currently understand it. By comparison, discovering that there was an intelligent designer that ‘tweaked’ evolution over the ages would not impact science much at all.

    But none of this is a statement about whether any of the above are actually true or not. Current science may just plain have it all wrong once our next theory comes along. For that matter, we may also eventually find that we’re assuming to much in our religion and had some aspects wrong. Perhaps we did used to overly literalize Genesis, for example.

Comments are closed.