Science in Christian Perspective
Origins and the Bible
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk, Connecticut 06854
From: JASA 29 (June 1977): 64-67.
The Creation of the Solar System and the Formation of Earth
Any agreement on the origin and formation of the solar system between theology and science seems impossible. However, upon careful scrunity, there are correlations that can be made. It is sometimes overlooked that the book of Genesis was presented to illiterate Israelites. Scientists hypothesize to a specialized, dedicated group of intelligent individuals. The background of each audience dictates different approaches to a common topic. For the purpose of this paper, the Old Testament is treated, not as a holy book, but a text utilized for the education of the people. The method of instruction can be considered similar to that used by the teachers of today-directing the presentation of facts at the student's academic level. In this context the biblical concept of solar system formation seems similar to that of modern science.
The most widely accepted scientific thoughts on solar system origin are based upon a nebular hypothesis. Pierre Laplace (1749-1827) suggested that all universal matter was distributed through space in the form of a gaseous cloud. Concentrations formed and grew by gravitational attraction. If the cloud were rotating, contraction would produce an increased velocity and a disk-shaped form. Inevitably the rapid rotation would lead to instability and the release of gaseous rings to remove the unstable condition. However, further contraction would create other instabilities and the production of additional rings. Eventually the center of the cloud concentration would become hot enough to form the sun. The escaped ring would cool and coalesce forming protoplanets. However, contracting protoplanets would also produce instabilities resulting in the release of smaller rings eventually becoming their satellites. Although once widely accepted, Laplace's hypothesis proved mathematically unsound (Menzel, 1970).
Thomas Chamberlain (1843-1928) and Forest Moulton (1872-1952) of the University of Chicago proposed that huge tides of material were produced in the sun's outer rim by the close passage of another star. The gravitational forces of the intruder caused the sun to release a tremendous quantity of material to space. As the passing star disappeared, the escaped material encircled the sun, cooled, and congealed into lumps called planetessimals. Larger planetessimals swept up smaller ones and other debris eventually forming our planets.
A variation of this tidal hypothesis was suggested by Sir James Jeans and Sir Harold Jeffreys. The tidal effect of the passing star caused the sun to release a long filament which cooled and broke into protoplanet contractions (Menzel, 1970).
Fred Hoyle of Cambridge University postulated that the sun was once a double star. One of the pair became unstable, exploded, and headed into space leaving a trail of gas and dust. The planets were said to have developed from these remains (Menzel, 1970).
C. F. von Weizsacker and C. P. Kuiper produced another nebular variation. Several condensations formed in the original cloud. The smaller concentrations gathered material as they orbited the forming sun. Some of the concentrations may even have been inside the sun's atmosphere. Solar wind and radiation pressure were to have driven material into space leaving the protoplanets behind (Menzel, 1970).
All of the above hypotheses are founded on a gaseous origin; they are modifications of a common theme.
The Biblical Account
In the consideration of biblical creation, it is paramount that the reader concentrate on the following factors: (1) the nature of the audience, (2) the basic ideas, not the figurative presentation, and (3) the sequential order of creation. The six days of Biblical creation are found in the book of Genesis.
In simple terms, the first day's accomplishments (Gen. 1:1-5) include the creation of heaven, an unformed earth, and light in the midst of darkness.
In this age of confrontation concerning the teaching of biblical creation in science classrooms, it seems ironic that the Bible and modern science agree on the sequence of cosmogony and the evolution of planet Earth.
Elementary science students know that matter without form can exist
in a gaseous
state. The hypotheses discussed above agree that the solar system
as a gaseous cloud. They believe that the greatest concentration of
to form the sun, and the planets, including earth, formed from the
this center. It is also believed that the nebula was originally dark until the
sun produced its own light.
The Bible concurs, stating that initially "the earth was unformed", that "darkness was upon the face of the deep", and then God said, "Let there be light".
In the second day of biblical creation (Gen. 1:6-8), the author (or authors) begins to expound upon a theory of planetary development. The ancients, including the Israelites, were geocentrically oriented; therefore, the prime concern is with the formation of earth. The Israelites are informed that the earth had cooled to a liquid state; however, there were two divided liquids. These former desert slaves were acquainted with several liquids: blood, oil, water, wine, and milk. Of the five, only water is not produced from a biological source. The water could have been one of the divided fluids of earth. Liquid rock, lava, which contains a great deal of water, had probably never been seen by the Israelite slaves. Therefore, by referring to the division of two waters, it is suggested that two different liquids composed earth: clouds above and liquid rock below (Block, 1976).
Many scientists believe that the earth may have passed from a gaseous to a molten or partially molten stage in the condensation of its material (Clark and Stern, 1968). This action was probably induced by the gravitational attraction of its material or the release of heat energy by the radioactive decay of its elements (Luce, 1955). Water vapor in addition to methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, escaped during the cooling process, forming earth's primal atmosphere and enshrouding the liquid earth with a thick cloud cover (Urey, 1972).
At the conclusion of the second day, a period of cooling is stated by denoting a liquid earth. The above scientific hypotheses supports this idea.
In verse nine further cooling is suggested by the presence of the first solid, land. Some scientists believe that the thick cloud cover surrounding earth kept the sun's light from penetrating to the liquid rock surface. Water falling from the cloud could have cooled the surface but would immediately steam hack into the atmosphere. Eventually solid rock began to congeal when the surface temperature reached 1,0002,000 degrees Fahrenheit (Luce, 1955). Many argue that the cooling earth became encrusted over its whole surface with a thin layer of light granitie material forming land on top of heavier basaltic rock. Some say that the entire earth was basaltic with differentiation of material caused by the process of deformation (Kay, 1972). Be that as it may, laboratory experiments leave little doubt that granite, of which the continents are made, originally came from hot magmas (Tuttle, 1955).
Eventually the temperature of the surface fell below the boiling point of water. The great, allencompassing cloud condensed and precipitated a deluge. Water began to accumulate. Cooling lava and volcanic emissions provided additional water to the low-lying areas, ultimately creating the oceans. Genesis states that the sea was "gathered together" and "the dry land became visible".
Twentieth century earth scientists, beginning with Alfred Wegener in 1912, agree with the claim that the sea, now called Panthalassa, was together. If the sea water was together, then the land must have been together. Overwhelming evidence has confirmed that a universal land mass, Pangaea, did exist (Dietz and Holden, 1972). Sections have since split and have drifted to their present location, probably by means of convection currents in the earth's mantle (Wilson, 1972). Today there is almost universal acceptance of the Theory of Continental Drift. Moses or the authors of Genesis may have been its first proponents.
The third day of creation, as well as the fifth and sixth days, are concerned with biological development and are the topic of the second part of this paper.
In the fourth day of Biblical creation (Gen. 1:14-19), a contradiction seems to appear between the Bible and science. The sun seems to have been created twice -on the first and fourth days. One school of scientific thought believes that a dense primitive atmosphere containing the volatile constituents of water and carbon dioxide surrounded the hot earth. As the cooling earth solidified, temperatures dropped sufficiently permitting the water to condense, precipitate, and collect in low-lying areas. The removal of water from the atmosphere would thin the cloud cover, ultimately permitting the light from the sun, moon, and stars to reach the surface of the land (Strahler, 1972). In other words, the sun was not created again but now could be seen from the surface of the earth. As is indicated, "God set them in the expansion of the heaven to give light upon the earth" (Block, 1976).
In this age of confrontation concerning the teaching of biblical creation in science classrooms, it seems ironic that the Bible and modern science agree on the sequence of cosmogony and the evolution of planet Earth. The difference in wording seems due to the nature of the audiences receiving the information. In addition, certain biblical statements, figuratively interpreted, seem to make the authors of Genesis pioneers in cosmogony, planetary development, and continental drift. It is my belief that the Bible and modern scientific hypotheses of creation are, in fact, alike, but expressed in different terms.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF LIFE
Plant Life Biological creation begins during the third day and continues on days five and six (Gen. 1:11-13). The Bible implies that the first living organisms on earth were plants. Many scientists say that the early atmosphere of earth, unlike today, probably consisted of methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and water vapor (Urey, 1972). Atmospheric oxygen increased as solar radiation dissociated water into hydrogen and oxygen. Most of the hydrogen, the lightest element, escaped from earth's gravitational pull. Carbon combining with oxygen as carbon dioxide, made plant life possible. The photosynthetic process released additional oxygen until there was an abundance of free atmospheric oxygen required for animal development (MeAlester, 1968).
It is also known that plants occupy the first trophic level in the food chain and are the source of energy transferred to all other organisms (Odum, 1968). Since plants are responsible for food and oxygen, scientists and the Bible agree that plants preceded animal life on earth.
The most ancient organic life forms discovered to date are fossils of microscopic bacteria and blue-green algae found in Precambrian rock in South Africa: the Fig Tree Series and the underlying Onverwacht Series. Spheroidal forms exist in both series while the former also includes rod-shaped, bacterium-like bodies. The Fig Tree structure has been proven organic and is presently the oldest known remains of life on earth, 3100 mya (Dunbar and Waage, 1969).
The first land plants were seedless, pencil-like, organisms called Psilopsids which lacked both roots and leaves. Photosynthesis was accomplished in the stem. Horizontal portions of the stem covered the ground functioning as roots. These oldest known vascular fossil plants were found in the upper Silurian deposits in England. Other seedless plants including Lycopsids (clubmosses), Sphenopsida (horsetails), and Pteropsida (ferns) appear during the Devonian producing small herbs, and eventually, seedless trees. These trees contributed to the coal forests of the late Carboniferous (McAlester, 1968). By late Carboniferous and Permian time, seedless trees were giving way to gymnosperms, seed bearing flora, which could reproduce without external moisture. Cycads (Palmlike), ginkgoes (with a fan-shaped leaf), and conifers first appear in the Carboniferous, and developed into great forests during Triassic and Jurassic periods.
The more highly developed Angiosperms (flowering plants) first appear in the lower Cretaceous. They rapidly become the dominant plants and remain so to this day. Their evolutionary success is probably based upon its fruit-enclosed seeds and seed dispersal mechanisms (McAlester, 1968).
It is interesting to note the sequence of biblical floral creation: grass, herbs bearing seed, and fruit trees. The Old Testament could have indicated that plants evolve from small or simple organisms to more complex structures (Block, 1976).
It is scientifically known that different kinds of life succeeded one another-that life is continually evolving. The "fittest" individuals pass their desirable traits on to the next generation. Over many generations, selective reproduction by the most successful individuals would lead to adaptive changes in species and, ultimately, to new species (McAlester, 1968). Organisms do become more complex by developing adaptations to meet environmental changes.
The Biblical "grass" could have represented small low-lying plants to the Israelites. Seed bearing herbs could be a reference to gymnosperm herbs. The final plants and highest level of development mentioned on the third day of creation are fruit trees which do represent the more highly advanced angiosperms. It is coincidental that Biblical creation seems to parallel principles of basic evolutionary thought (Block, 1976).
Fish and Birds (Gen. 1:20-23)
In the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, M. F. Glaessner of the University of Adelaide in 1947 found fossils of what was to be the oldest known living animal life. In a late Precambrian to lower Cambrian formation, impressions attributed to jellyfish, segmented worms, and sea pens were discovered, as well as several other impressions that resemble no known organisms (Dunhar and Waage, 1969).
The oldest and most primitive fish were the agnaths, jawless fish, found during the Ordovician. Some were suspension-feeders straining plankton from the surface, while others moved along the bottom taking in the organic-rich sediments. Lampreys and hagfishes, which attach to and suck blood from other vertebrates, are today's jawless descendants of the agnath. By Devonian time, "great sea monsters" had developed as exemplified by the Dinichthys, a jawed, carnivorous fish of the Class Placodermi, These fish grew to a length of thirty feet with a mouth several feet wide. Late Devonian brought their decline as sharks and bony fish became dominant (McAlester, 1968).
The ability to fly is an adaptation of great advantage. It permits an animal to escape from danger easily and establish a wider range in which to search for food. The first flying animals were insects.. The fossilized wing of a dragon fly-like species was found in rocks of Carboniferous age. This insect had a three-foot wingspats making it the largest insect known. Flying reptiles, Pterosaurs, existed during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Skin was attached to one long finger on each side which functioned as a wing. The wing span of some Pterosaurs measured more than twenty-five feet, making them the largest animal to fly. Their fossil remains were last found in Upper Cretaceous rock (McAlester, 1968).
Once again, the "coincidence" of biblical creation follows the evolutionary pattern of development from the simple or small to the more complex creatures. Is the Bible preaching evolution?
Creation of Man (Gen. 1:24-31)
Scientists believe that man has "dominion" over the earth because of superior intellect; therefore, the evolutionary trend should parallel cerebral development. The Bible seems to deviate from evolution since cattle are more advanced than "creeping things". I believe that this deviation may not have been by accident, but for the understanding of the Israelites. Cattle use little intelligence because their basic needs, food and protection, are provided by man. "Creeping things" generally have less cerebral growth; however, they are faced with "decisions" concerning food and
It is my belief that the Bible can be used as a scientific reference and that the biblical and scientific hypotheses of biological development are alike, but expressed in different terms.
predators. To the ancients, this could have denoted an
act of "thinking". The creation of "beasts" bring to mind
larger and more cunning carnivorous animals capable of higher
man, possessing the power of reason, is the top of the intellectual ladder. The
Bible figuratively seems to indicate domination on land by
intellectual as opposed
to physical evolution (Block, 1976).
The Bible and modern scientists seem to have the same hypothesis on the development of living organisms. The difference in wording could be due to the nature of the audiences receiving the information. It is my belief that the Bible can be used as a scientific reference and that the biblical and scientific hypotheses of biological development are alike, but expressed in different terms.
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