Please read the following Bible passages:
1) 14And God said, “Let there come to be [“hayah,” היה] lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them come to be [“hayah,” היה] for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15and let them come to be [“hayah,” היה] lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it came to be [“hayah,” היה] so. 16And God made [or ‘did’] the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17And God set [or ‘gave’ or ‘ordained’] them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. –Genesis 1:14-19
2) . . . the moon and stars to rule over the night, for his steadfast love endures forever . . . –Psalm 136:9
3) Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night . . . –Jer. 31:35
Genesis 1:14-19: The Sun, Moon and Stars
Now, here is probably the very best argument that the young-earth crowd makes: The sun was clearly created on Creation Day 4, and therefore the plants of Day 3 could not have been growing more than a day or two without it. I will attempt to answer this reasonably and fairly.
Notice the phrase, “in the expanse [sky] of the heavens,” which occurs three times. Almost anyone knows that the sun, moon, and stars are not literally in the sky or atmosphere. It is only true from the perspective of the surface of the earth. We are brought to realize that this passage is clearly speaking, again, from a particular point of reference—the same one as earlier in Genesis: the surface of the ground. To make sense of this passage we need to think in terms of a human perspective from earth.
The meaning seems to be that God made these lights visible in the sky. Technically, there would be no need to use the ground as a point of reference if God made the sun, moon, and stars instantaneously out of nothing on this day of creation. It could have just said, “Let there come to be lights to separate the day from the night,” etc. The “in the expanse of the heavens” is somewhat pointless if these celestial bodies were literally being created. However, on the other hand, it would be perfectly reasonable for this passage to be saying that the sun, moon, and stars were just now becoming seen in the sky—that is, that the sun and moon and stars were being put in the sky, not technically, but from a certain relative perspective. If the “in the sky” part is not literal and technical, it becomes perfectly reasonable to view the “set” and “made” to be also not literal and technical creation; so, all phrases should be interpreted equally as from the vantage point of the ground and not in absolute terms.
So, the passage can reasonably be interpreted to mean that the sun, moon, and stars were just now becoming truly seen from the ground. They were now being put “in the sky.” We have already noted that the atmosphere was thick and dark originally, and that it began to become clearer, such that there was a clear night-and-day cycle. However, from this part of Genesis 1, I believe we see that the sun, moon, and stars were obscured for a long period of time, until this point when the atmosphere cleared further allowing them to become visible and therefore useful for signs and seasons.
Can we justify this? What about it saying that the sun was “made,” and what about the phrase, “He made the stars also”? The KJV has in Gen. 1:16, “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” However, the words “he made” are not anywhere to be found in the original Hebrew. It literally says, “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night—the stars also.” Comparing scripture with scripture, we see in Psalm 136:9 that the moon and stars were both to rule over the night. So, I believe it is reasonable to interpret Gen. 1:16 as saying that the lesser light (moon) was to rule over the night, along with the stars.
Also, the word in Hebrew for “made” (‘asah,’ עשׂה) in v.16 is the most basic of words that may mean nothing more than “to do.” It can mean a wide range of things, like to “fashion,” “furnish,” “prepare,” or “provide.” The meaning is likely that God was furnishing the lights in the sky by clearing the atmosphere and so making them visible. From the relative perspective from the surface, these “lights” were truly being made. Before this point, there were no lights called the sun, moon, and stars; after this, there were perpetually lights in the sky called the sun, moon and stars. God had, in relative terms and from the perspective of earth, made these lights in the sky.
The other word used is “set” in v.17: “And God set them in the expanse . . .” Again, this is clearly a relative statement since they were not literally set in the atmosphere. The word “set” (‘nathan’, נתן) is also broad in meaning, and means basically “to give,” and can be translated as to “appoint,” “ordain,” “place,” or “put.” The meaning I get is basically that God appointed the celestial bodies in the sky to be for lights and signs and to rule over the night and over the day.
The sun appears to have become visible first and then the moon and stars. This is consistent with the order in which things would have become visible as the clouds were diminished. The sun, which is the brightest, would certainly become visible first, then the moon as the second brightest, and then eventually the dim stars. Even the order used in this passage is fully significant, I believe.
The Purpose of the Sun, Moon, and Stars
Finally, it is notable that the sun, moon, and stars are here described as being for signs and seasons, for lights, for dividing the darkness and the light, and for ruling over the day and over the night. We see from vv. 4-5, that there already was light that was dividing the darkness and the light and creating Night and Day on Day 1. So, we may appropriately assume that on Day 4, this separation between light and darkness was intensified further. This is in line with our interpretation that the atmosphere cleared further and allowed the sun, moon, and stars to become visible.
These lights in the sky were expressly put there for the purpose of being for signs and seasons. Before the lights were visible, they would not be able to be used for signs and seasons. It therefore makes sense that these lights were now being made useful for signs and seasons. Once they became clearly visible they were useful for such purposes.
I believe that Day 4 is specifying that the heavenly lights were now becoming visible in the sky and thus useful for signs and seasons, and more useful for separating the darkness and the light and ruling over the day and night.
Science and the Sun, Moon, and Stars
Obviously, if this is a good interpretation, then you would also expect that science would also fit with this idea. There is little information that can be obtained about cloud cover in ancient history. All the information would seem to be indirect.
It is widely believed in the scientific community that CO2—a so-called greenhouse gas—was much more abundant in the atmosphere in the past. It was about 15 times more abundant some 450 Ma. CO2 is supposed to create a greenhouse effect that would cause global warming, and yet around 500-400 Ma the earth is believed to have been roughly the same temperature as today. How does one account for this? There is one easy explanation: the strong greenhouse effect caused massive cloud-cover that shielded the earth from direct sunlight and reflected a good portion of the sun’s energy back into space. So, the greenhouse effect would trap large amounts of energy but also cause increased cloud cover that reduced the amount of energy becoming trapped in the atmosphere. This would seem to be the best explanation. Somewhere around 450 Ma and before, the skies were highly cloudy.
(It is interesting to note that there are scientists that would argue that an increase of manmade CO2 today might result in increases in cloud cover. So, this is not an unlikely or bizarre scenario that I have presented.)
Now, it is well established that CO2 decreased drastically from c. 450 Ma to about 300 Ma as the plant life and plate tectonics removed much of the CO2. Therefore, according to this theory above, the cloud cover would have drastically been reduced also during this time period.
But, how could plants live with 50% sunlight for so long? We have said that algae and fungi and early plant life came into existence on land about 1200-900 Ma. So, how did these plants live with so little sunlight.
The answer is interesting and insightful (as shown elsewhere on this blog). The earliest plants in the fossil record appear to be all shade-loving or shade-tolerating plants:
- Algae, c. 1200-900 Ma, love shade and cannot live in direct sunlight
- Fungi, c. 1000-900 Ma, prefer shade
- Liverworts, c. 500 Ma, prefer shade
- Ferns, c. 390 Ma, thrive in shady environments
- Mosses, c. 350 Ma, prefer shade
- Conifer Trees, c. 330 Ma, are well-suited to thrive in shady environments
- Cycads (seeding plants), c. 315 Ma, can thrive in semi-shade