SCIENCE, RELIGION, AND THE CREATION OF LIFE ON EARTH
I have found that one of the difficulties in discussing religion is often a matter of semantics. Consequently, I would like to begin by providing the context for the following discussion.
I am a Christian; and while I have made active efforts in understanding other faiths, I am not knowledgeable enough to give an all-inclusive treatise on Science and Religion. Instead, much of what follows will be relevant only within the framework of the Christian faith. Specifically, I would consider myself to be devout and active in my faith; I also believe that I am well versed in Christian scripture and fundamental doctrine, and thus feel suited to approach this subject.
Now what of science? I am a student of the sciences. Specifically, my background is in physics. I have a passion for finding the how and why of everything around me. While I have found physics to be the most personally satisfying channel for addressing these questions, my appreciation for other branches of science, specifically biology and life-science, has grown dramatically in recent years.
Science, meet Religion
My feelings on the relationship between science and religion are described very well in the words of Dr. Henry Eyring:
“For me there has been no serious difficulty in reconciling the principles of true science with the principles of true religion, for both are concerned with the eternal verities of the universe”
This is obviously not a universally held view. There are many who believe the field of science and the field of religion to be mutually exclusive; non-compatible. It is my experience that this mentality generally stems from, and more importantly leads to, ignorance. Consequently, “there are those in both fields who have done themselves and the causes to which they give their interest a great disservice in teaching that the two are opposed and that they cannot be harmonized.” 
There are surely many factors that lead to this mental compartmentalization of science and religion; however, there seems to be a single topic which contributes more so than any other – the Creation. I will limit my comments to reconciling traditional Christianity with contemporary science on this topic.
Specifically, I am often discouraged by the level of ignorance displayed by some within Christian circles towards scientific exploration. While similar attitudes are surely reciprocated, this paper is written largely with those of the first group in mind. I hope that writing in this manner will also create a spirit of understanding for those who have been otherwise put-off of by the topic at hand.
The Bible devotes only its first few pages to describe the creation of the entire earth, and all life on it. Because such little space is devoted this topic, what is described is done in quite general terms. The Bible speaks of the creation occurring over seven days (six working days, and a one-day weekend). Following is a brief outline of the creation as presented in the Bible:
Day1 – The earth is ‘created’ or generally brought into existence, but yet lacks definite form. No life is mentioned; the presence of water is specifically mentioned. The creation of ‘light’ is also mentioned, but the sun is not specifically mentioned by name until the fourth day.
Day2 – An atmosphere (‘firmament’) forms, water is described as being present in the atmosphere as well as on/in the earth.
Day3 – Definite land-masses form; the water gathers together in bodies called seas. Plant life first appears.
Day 4 – The creation of the sun, moon and stars are specifically noted. Seasons are also specifically mentioned.
Day 5 – Animal life appears in the water; flying animal life is also mentioned on this day.
Day 6 – Animal life is described as appearing on the land, specifically mammals are mentioned. Humans are the last thing to be created – specifically, man is said to have been created from ‘the dust of the earth’.
Day 7 – God rested.
In very general terms, the above description of the earth’s creation does agree with conventional scientific understanding: water is specifically mentioned several times indicating its central role in the development of life; simple life-forms are generally described as being created before more complicated ones, with land mammals and humans being the last to appear, and the first forms of animal life appearing in the water. Other general parallels can also be made.
The problems occur when analyzing the details of the Biblical account; for example, the categorization of life in the above account seems to be far too general, indicating that all plant life (including trees) appeared before any animal life. Next, all water-based animal life (including mammals such as whales) is described as being created before any land-based animal life. Another possibly troubling detail is that the sun, moon and stars seem to appear after the creation of plant life on earth (although ‘light’ is described as being present right from the beginning).
For some, perhaps the most troubling question arising from this is when discussing the time frame associated with the creation of the earth – seven days?
A time-scale for the Earth’s Creation
Indeed, the King James Version (KJV) of the English bible uses the word ‘day’ or ‘days’ to describe each of the creative periods outlined above. In all cases the Hebrew text from which the KJV was translated uses the word yôm (יום) which means “day (24 hours), daytime (in contrast to night); by extension: an indefinite period of time, an era with a certain characteristic.”  This same word which is translated ‘day’ in the biblical account of the creation is elsewhere in the bible translated as time, times , while, whole, year, yearly, full year, age, life, season, space, live, and continuance (among others). So which interpretation is the right one in this case?
Many traditional Christians believe the 24-hour definition to be the only acceptable one, giving a total time of 168 hours (including the weekend break) to go from-formation-of-earth to creation-of-man-in-his-current-state. Justifications such as the following are sometimes given for accepting only this time-limited interpretation:
“The Bible is true in its normal sensible understanding of its statements. We say sensible because we do not literally interpret what are clearly allegories and metaphors.”
While I do not find this argument very convincing, I leave it to the reader to decide where they stand in this matter. What I wish to emphasize here is the obvious subjectivity with which different interpretations of ambiguous passages are justified.
So, is there a right interpretation? Well, surely the creation of the earth up to and including life as we now know it, did take a certain amount of time. So the correct interpretation is thus whichever one agrees with the truth. It is that simple. Scientists would also agree that this is the approach to be taken when interpreting experimental data – the data is what it is; the correct interpretation of that data however often takes careful study and comparison with other empirical findings before a suitable, consistent theory is established. I believe that this same approach is very much in line the spirit of true religion:
“The scientific spirit is a spirit of inquiry, a spirit of reaching out for truth. In the final analysis, this spirit is likewise the essence of religion. The Savior said ‘Ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.’[Matt 7:7]” 
In connection with the idea of accepting truth, no matter its source, Paul of the New Testament wrote: “Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just… think on these things.” [Phillipians 4:8]
For the believing Christian, the Bible poses as an additional source of data – not the only source. This additional data is obviously more conclusive on some matters, such as the nature of God, than others, such as exactly how long it took for our earth and all the life on it to be created.
The Age of the Earth
When considering a time-scale for the duration of the earth’s creation, another question naturally arises: “Exactly how long ago did all of this take place?” Within Christian circles, the generally accepted time frame for Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden is on the order of 6000 years ago. This number is based on the genealogy and dates presented in the book of the Genesis. Depending on how accurate one considers this information to be (incomplete genealogies etc.), a fairly literal interpretation of the book of Genesis allows the modern human family to be assigned an age of about 10,000 years – roughly at the end of the last ice age. The data available in the Bible thus places the age of the earth at roughly 6,000 – 10,000 years, plus the time it took to do the actual creating. Given our discussion thus far, this could place the overall age of the earth anywhere between 6,000 years flat (plus 168 hours) to an arbitrarily long time depending on how the Biblical account is to be interpreted.
“We have a dilemma, however, because God has left messages all over in the physical world that scientists have learned to read. These messages are quite clear, well-understood, and accepted in science. That is, the theories that the earth is about four-and-one-half billion years old and that life evolved over the last billion years or so are as well established scientifically as many theories ever are. So, if the word of God found in the scriptures and the word of God found in the rocks are contradictory, must we choose between them, or is there some way they can be reconciled?”
Dr. Eyring raises an interesting question – can seemingly contradictory ideas be reconciled without having to completely throw one away? As an example, think of the centuries-long debate about the nature of light – particle or wave? We now understand both concepts to be correct within certain frameworks, but each is ultimately incomplete without the other. Granted, not all scientific debates have ended this way; however, I believe the important lesson here is to remain open to all honest attempts at finding truth. “Since the gospel embraces all truth, there can never be any genuine contradictions between true science and true religion.”
Finally, John A. Widtsoe, another Christian scientist for whom I have a great deal of respect made the following point: “Clearly it does not matter to one’s daily welfare or ultimate salvation which [interpretation] he adopts, except that every [Christian] must seek and cherish truth above all else.”
The final point of disconnect that I wish to address here is that of exactly how the creation was carried out. Enter the debate of Biblical teachings vs. organic evolution. In reality, the Bible is largely silent in regards to the details of the creation, thus eliminating the need (or possibility) for such a debate.
The few scriptures which do present ideas seeming to contradict current scientific understanding are so lacking in specifics that I have no personal difficulty in carrying on with both my scientific and theological studies, confident that at some future point a proper reconciliation of all available data is inevitable. For those Christians who feel uneasy about this approach to reconciling scientific discoveries with their faith, Dr. Widstoe offers the following:
“The discoveries are here. They cannot be denied; but the inferences from them are subject to constant revision.” He goes on to suggest that Christians are to “accept all discovered facts, but hold theories in abeyance.” Naturally, the level to which theories are held ‘in abeyance’ will depend on the strength of the collective body of data and evidence – and for believing Christians, this includes Biblical teachings.
Further on this matter, Dr Eyring states: “I appreciate the scriptures for their insights into how to love God and my neighbor and how to learn obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. These teachings are precious to all devoted [Christians]. However, the brevity of the scriptures about God’s methods of creation indicates that this may be a subject we will understand sometime but do not need to worry about for the time being.
“In the meantime, I think it is perfectly appropriate for us to study and learn as much as we can about this wonderful place God has prepared for us.”
Some Final Thoughts
Dr Eyring has appropriately commented; “I should like to say that true religion was never a narrow thing. True religion concerns man and the entire universe in which he lives. It concerns his relationships with himself, and his fellow men, with his environment and with God his creator. It is therefore limitless and boundless.” When this attitude is not understood or adopted, I find that many people of faith become uncomfortable and unnecessarily defensive surrounding discussions pertaining to science, and creation in particular. In this spirit, their honest desire to stand up for what they believe is often misguided, causing more damage than good. As examples I provide the following:
“We would once again caution all creationists; never refer to any paper by an evolutionist as authoritatively contradicting any creationist paper that has been thoroughly supported by good scientific evidence. The whole purpose of such papers is to defend the indefensible theory of evolution, and as we have said, without exception, such papers can be shown to have one or more serious flaws that completely destroy their credibility.”  [emphasis kept from the source]
“Because let’s face it, what’s taught through the public schools and much of the secular media [about evolution], it’s really an attack on the Bible.”
Comments such as these are an extremely unfortunate reflection on the Christian community as a whole. Teaching that the main purpose science is to attack and tear down religious faith is obviously absurd to any honest reasonable mind, and thus only discredits the source of the argument. Put another way, “the concept that the gospel should only be defended on the right ground is of utmost importance, since otherwise one may choose a position which is indefensible; and in defeat it may be mistakenly supposed that the gospel is at fault.”
When these matters are instead approached in the spirit of honest seeking for truth, the distinctions between true science and true religion will fade, fostering an environment for greater learning and growth for all.
“Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good” [1 Thessalonians 5:21]
1. Dr. Henry Eyring [1901-1981], was a theoretical chemist. The Eyring equation, which relates chemical reaction rates to temperature is named in his honor. He was the author of more than 500 scientific articles and the recipient of many notable awards.
2. “Science and Your Faith in God”, lectures compiled by Paul R Green, Bookcraft, 1958.
3. Genesis, chapters 1-3. (Genesis is the first book in the canonical Christian Bible)
4. Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary-Index to the Old Testament, “The Strongest Strongs Exhaustive Condordance of the Bible”, Zondervan, 2000.
5. Malcolm Bowden, “THE BASIC SCIENTIFIC ARGUMENTS FOR GEOCENTRICITY” (text available here)
6. Henry Eyring, “Reflections of a Scientist”, Deseret Book Company
7. Malcolm Bowden, “The Moon is Still Young”, text available here.
8. PBS Newshour special report, “Evolution Debate”, text available here.