June 23, 2011

BCOE: Day 3 of Creation - Land and Vegetation

Please read the following Bible passages:


1)  And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together [or collected, ולמקוה] into one place, and let the dry land be seen.” And it came to be [‘hayah,’ היה] so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.  And God said, “Let the earth be sprouting vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it came to be [‘hayah,’ היה] so.  The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  Then there was evening and there was morning, the third day.  –Genesis 1:9-13

2) He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.  You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.  At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.  The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them.  You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.  –Psalm 104:5-9

3)  Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it [the sea] and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?  –Job 38:10-11

Genesis 1:9-10: Creation of the Land

We see from parallel passages like Psalm 104:5-9, that a process of formation was used to create the land.  It should be clear that Psalm 104 is talking about the formation of the earth, since it starts by talking about the laying down of the earth’s foundation, which clearly is a reference to forming the earth.  The “gathering together” of the waters (Gen. 1:9), then, was accomplished through mountains rising and valleys sinking down, etc.

Again, we cannot overemphasize that this description of land formation is consistent with established science.  In fact, one of my talks with a coworker was quite interesting in that when I presented the Bible passages put together as a whole, he claimed I was rewriting the Bible so that it fit with science!  He was accusing me of forcing the Bible to fit with science, just because I had pieced these parallel passages together in the most logical way.  The Bible simply does fit with science; there is no need to “force” it to fit.

Here is a parallel with science:

The [earth’s] initial land masses were hundreds of micro continents and island arcs. The first continental grouping is thought to have appeared about 3 billion years ago. Called Ur, it consisted of relatively small pieces of present day Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica. . . . These lands moved continuously as ocean beds formed and spread. When larger bodies of land impacted with smaller bits, they were added to their margins. Collisions with larger land masses raised mountains and unleashed flows of magma which welded the colliding pieces together.

Sometime between 1.2 and 1 billion years ago, the [arguably first] supercontinent Rodinia formed. It was surrounded by an ocean called Mirovia. Three or four existing continents collided in a large mountain-building episode [sound familiar?] . . . When two continents collide, neither will sink (as they are both low-density continental crust, like corks bobbing in the ocean). Instead, they thrust over one another near the surface and fold at depth . . . to form fold-and-thrust mountains. . . . The rocks formed in this process became the suture zone that joined the continents into one.

Continental plates . . . have periodically collided and assembled in geologic periods of orogenesis (mountain building) to form supercontinents.

A convergent (colliding) plate boundary occurs when two plates collide. If the convergent boundary involves two continental plates, the crust is compressed into high mountain ranges [sound familiar?] such as the Himalayas. If an oceanic plate and a continental plate collide, the oceanic crust (because it is more dense) is subducted under the continental crust [sound familiar?]. . . .

So, the Bible highly simplifies this process, but the general idea is the same: bits of land formed and grew, these micro-continents were gathered together forming bigger land masses, until a supercontinent formed and a single ocean formed.  During this whole process, as the Bible says, the mountains rose up and valleys sank down, and God established boundaries for the seas.  I would argue that the phrase, “Let the waters . . . be gathered together,” speaks of the process whereby the land was gathered together and the waters were also simultaneously gathered together.  The mountains rising and valleys sinking down (Psalm 104) is a valid description of what happens during plate tectonics and the formation of continents.

As we can see in the Appendix A, this order of events is consistent with established science.  The earth’s foundations were laid down, seas were made, the atmosphere was cleared, the water cycle was established, the land was formed, and then the land was gathered together to make the first supercontinent.  Coincidence?  Not likely.  When you see that the whole order of these events in Genesis 1 (combined with other passages) fits with established science, it because quite unbelievable to say that it is all coincidence.  It would take more faith to believe it is not describing the same things that scientists describe than to believe that the Bible is summarizing in simple language the same exact things. 

Genesis 1:11-13: Creation of the Vegetation

Note that the “earth” would cause vegetation to spout up. Normally this would take days and months and even years to complete.  The “fruitful” trees would take several years to start producing flowers and fruit.  The natural understanding here would be that this was a rather lengthy period of time.  However, the young-earth view requires that this process be highly accelerated.  The growth process would need to be accelerated.  Not only the growth would need acceleration, but physics would need to be suspended also; otherwise, the plants wouldn’t be getting enough sunlight and energy to grow so rapidly.  Basically, this growth would need to be entirely supernatural.  I don’t have a problem with supernatural growth, but why wouldn’t God have just miraculously created the plants out of nothing?  Why did He have the earth sprout this vegetation?  There is no indication that the plant growth was accelerated, other than the, “There was evening and there was morning, the third day,” sentence.  To me, the natural meaning is that the ground caused vegetation to sprout just like normal, but the “day” was a longer period of time.

Hebrew does not have past, present, and future verb tenses in the same way as does English.  The phrase, “The earth brought forth . . .” could better be translated as, “The earth was bringing forth . . .” I believe.  Hebrew does have a perfect and imperfect tense, which indicates if an action was completed or was ongoing.  The Hebrew here could indicate that the earth was continually producing vegetation, since the word “bringing forth” is in the imperfect tense, and may easily indicate that the process of producing vegetation was incomplete at the end of this day.

The reason I mention that is because we find out from the fossil record that simple vegetation did indeed come into existence first before any other form of life. According to the fossil record, there was algae and fungi that first started growing on land somewhere around 1200 to 900 million years ago.  Next, simple plant life started growing around 600 Ma, and later familiar forms of plants like liverworts around 500 Ma.  However, fruit bearing trees (also known as angiosperms) didn’t start growing until maybe 250-150 Ma, with familiar fruit trees not existing until about 100-50 Ma.  So, the point here is that the fossil record does show vegetation was the first form of modern life, but it shows that there was a very long process before all kinds of plants came into existence.  Yet, as I have just mentioned, the Genesis passage does allow for the creation of vegetation to be incomplete by the end of creation Day 3.

From what I can tell, Genesis 1:11-13 is specifying three basic forms of vegetation that came into existence: (1) simple, seedless vegetation; (2) plants with seeds (or spores); and (3) fruitful, flowering trees.  If one looks at the fossil record, this order fits well.  Simple vegetation like algae was first on the land.  The simple vegetation came around 1000 Ma, the seeding plants came roughly 550 Ma, and the flowering plants came roughly 200 Ma.  The order fits with the fossil record and established science.  (In line with this, insects useful for pollination are found at c. 200 Ma in the fossil record.)

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