When someone says they believe Scripture is literal, often the first thing that comes to mind is that they believe the earth was created in six days. Then their fellow Christians, especially Catholics, tell them, “No, no, holy roller. Each day represents ages, eons, or phases of the evolution of the earth, and each phase took thousands, millions, or even billions of years.”
This effort to arrive at a synthesis between creationism and evolution, noble as it may be, does not work as conveniently as we may like, though. If we go back to the original Hebrew text for Genesis 1, we see the words “erev” and “boker”, which are the biblical Hebrew words for “morning” and “evening” ( read Gerald Schroeder’s Genesis One: A Physicist Looks at Creation, with Zola Levitt, program 1). If the Bible meant age or eon, there were words it could have used for that, such as “tkufah” meaning an indefinite amount of time. The Bible is trying to tell us something by using the words “morning”, “evening”, and “day”, and we are glossing over the deeper meaning if we just assume these words are poetic representations of long periods of time.
Where in the Universe Are We?
The Bible is not written from our perspective, so all of these terms we use to measure time–day, eon, age, and so on–are irrelevant because time as we understand it is not the same as time as the Author understands it. It’s natural to assume the Bible is written from a perspective somewhere on Earth. After all, that’s where we are and everything else we read has been written from that perspective. But when we read the Bible we need to think about what our measurement of time looks like in the eyes of God. Perhaps from where he’s standing, completely new factors come into play, like space–and here I mean both physical distance and the stars and galaxies above us. Whether we’re talking about six days or 15 billion years, we are thinking about time alone and not space. Hardly does it occur to us that space plays as much a part as time does when measuring the age of the universe and the earth.
What if the distance from which the creation of Earth was witnessed had an effect on the amount of time it took? And what if that perspective is somewhere outside our world? Given the scale of the subject matter, it makes perfect sense that the creation of Earth is being described from an outside perspective in Genesis 1. From this God’s-eye-view, not only is the earth probably much smaller physically–but periods of time are much smaller as well.
In Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom, the Jewish nuclear physicist makes the case that time dilates over vast amounts of space. Basing his reasoning on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, he shows how the amount of time that passes in any given place in the universe is relative to the place from which you are watching that passing of time. Thus, 15 billion years could be a very different amount of time depending on where you are in the universe.
With this understanding, Genesis 1 and much of the rest of the Bible comes into greater focus. What is a day in the eyes of God, after all? The Bible tells us:
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night (Psalm 90:4)
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8)
In other words, Scripture is confirming that in the eyes of God time passes at a very different pace. I’d imagine it could pass at whatever time he pleases to suit his will since he is outside of it.
Take this concept into the story of Creation and the six days start to make much more sense. Before man was created, the only being in the universe–to our knowledge–who had a sense of time was God. But what significance is time to an all-powerful being who lives forever? Scripture is not simply being poetic in saying the earth was created in six days. It’s measuring time according to the only source at the time who had the ability to measure the significance of events–and through his eyes, it took six twenty-four-hour periods.
As Schroeder states, “The only perspective available for the entire Six Day period is that of the total universe, one that encompasses the entire creation” (Science of God, 50).
Science and Creation
Scientists know that time dilates as it travels, just as they know light takes time to travel across the universe. They just don’t mention it. Why not? They either think it would lend too much credibility to the Bible or they assume the human perspective is understood. As Schroeder points out, when scientists say the universe is 15 billion years old, they mean it’s 15 billion years old from our vantage point in the universe. The second part of that statement is so taken for granted they don’t bother saying it.
In God’s account of the creation of Earth though, he is recounting events from his dwelling place, which is the place where the universe began, for he is the Alpha.
Schroeder provides a neat little formula that translates God’s measurement of time into our own: Take the age of the universe as perceived by science: 15,000,000,000 years. Divide it by 1,000,000,000,000. This equals .015. Multiply .015 by 365 days in a year, and you get about six days ( Science of God, 57). He provides all sorts of other formulas to further prove his point in his book The Science of God.
How fast are we moving on Earth, in our solar system, in our galaxy? How old is the light we are seeing from stars light-years away? In all of these cases, time and space are not as they seem to be by the naked eye. It’s not the biblical account of creation that’s off. It’s our perception of time and space that we need to reconsider.
If a World Is Created When Nobody’s Around …
Looked at another way, it’s a different version of the old question, “If a tree falls in the middle of the forest where no one can hear it, does it make a sound?” Yes, the laws of nature say it does, but the only way to measure that sound would be to have someone present who heard it–and they’re going to say it was as loud as it was from wherever they were. Ask the same person, “What if I was standing right in front of it? Then how loud would it be?” obviously he would then say it would be much louder. But as far as he’s concerned, he was the only one around so that fact doesn’t matter.
Should God have added the asterisk to the history of Creation, explaining that the whole story would be different when seen from a human’s perspective? Why would he do that? It’s his book; he is the author and it is written from his perspective, so we should be striving to read it from his perspective, not ours. If it were written from ours, it would be just like every other book.
Before Adam and Eve
Taking God’s perspective brings us deeper than we may have expected at first. Not only is it important for us to see Creation from this point of view for the sake of understanding Creation. It’s also important because it’s very likely the point of view humans had at the time, according to our faith. Scripture says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). If God is creating the earth from his dwelling place in heaven, and from where he is standing it took six days, it is quite possible that man was right by his side as what only faith and imagination can say; perhaps just as a thought in his infinite mind, but there nonetheless. I’m not saying humans are eternal, for only God is eternal and every being except him had a beginning–but there is no saying when that beginning was for us. Our lives on earth are but a blip of our overall existence. When God began creating the earth, man was already on his mind. His plan for each one of us was already conceived. Once he created us in his own image on the sixth day, everything changes–including time itself–because this tiny planet became the dwelling place of his beloved. I’ll tell you one thing: I’m more at home with that thought than being related to some primordial soup that went through countless mutations before taking human form.
Our Current Age
One final note of significance that I need to mention, via Schroeder’s insights. Taking the formula he offers, it becomes clear that the sixth day of creation is not over yet. The equation equals .545 because we are in fact still being created by God, and progressing toward the fulfillment of his plan for us, which is to be fully created in his image and likeness. God sees this all from his vantage point. I imagine that from his point of view all of time–past, present, and future–are all one. In fact, some of us–the saints–have already arrived at the end of the story and have received the beatific vision as the Church Triumphant.
It makes perfect sense that we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the seventh day every week. After all, the seventh day–Sunday–represents the union of God and humanity, the wedding feast of the Lamb. In fact, at every Mass, we are saying our nuptial vows to God. The story doesn’t end there either, as baptism represents the eighth day because it is the sacrament in which we become a new creation as sons and daughters of God, so we may partake in the eighth day of God’s creation–at which time we will experience the new heaven and the new earth.
Hopefully, this can help us look at the Genesis Creation story differently, and shed some light on what is void and without form in our minds.