As Father de Vaux points out, Genesis "starts with two juxtaposed descriptions of the Creation". When examining them from the point of view of their compatibility with modern scientific data, we must look at each one separately.
The first description occupies the first chapter and the very first verses of the second chapter. It is a masterpiece of inaccuracy from a scientific point of view. It must be examined one paragraph at a time. The text reproduced here is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. [ Pub. w. M. Collins & Sons for the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1952.]
Chapter 1, verses 1 & 2:
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters."
It is quite possible to admit that before the Creation of the Earth, what was to become the Universe as we know it was covered in darkness. To mention the existence of water at this period is however quite simply pure imagination. We shall see in the third part of this book how there is every indication that at the initial stage of the formation of the universe a gaseous mass existed. It is an error to place water in it.
Verses 3 to 5:
"And God said, 'Let there be light', and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day."
The light circulating in the Universe is the result of complex reactions in the stars. We shall come back to them in the third part of this work. At this stage in the Creation, however, according to the Bible, the stars were not yet formed. The "lights' of the firmament are not mentioned in Genesis until verse 14, when they were created on the Fourth day, "to separate the day from the night", "to give light upon earth"; all of which is accurate. It is illogical, however, to mention the result (light) on the first day, when the cause of this light was created three days later. The fact that the existence of evening and morning is placed on the first day is moreover, purely imaginary; the existence of evening and morning as elements of a single day is only conceivable after the creation of the earth and its rotation under the light of its own star, the Sun!
-verses 6 to 8:
"And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.' And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day."
The myth of the waters is continued here with their separation into two layers by a firmament that in the description of the Flood allows the waters above to pass through and flow onto the earth. This image of the division of the waters into two masses is scientifically unacceptable.
-verses 9 to 13:
"And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.' And it was 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 put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind upon the earth.' And it was 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. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day."
The fact that continents emerged at the period in the earth's history, when it was still covered with water, is quite acceptable scientifically. What is totally untenable is that a highly organized vegetable kingdom with reproduction by seed could have appeared before the existence of the sun (in Genesis it does not appear until the fourth day), and likewise the establishment of alternating nights and days.
-verses 14 to 19:
"And God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmaments of the heavens to separate the day from night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.' And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon earth, to rule over. the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day."
Here the Biblical author's description is acceptable. The only criticism one could level at this passage is the position it occupies in the description as a whole. Earth and Moon emanated, as we know, from their original star, the Sun. To place the creation of the Sun and Moon after the creation of the Earth is contrary to the most firmly established ideas on the formation of the elements of the Solar System.
-verses 20 to 30:
"And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens.' So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.' And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day."
This passage contains assertions which are
According to Genesis, the animal kingdom began with the appearance of creatures of the sea and winged birds. The Biblical description informs us that it was not until the next day-as we shall see in the following verses-that the earth itself was populated by animals.
It is certain that the origins of life came from the sea, but this question will not be dealt with until the third part of this book. From the sea, the earth was colonized, as it were, by the animal kingdom. It is from animals living on the surface of the earth, and in particular from one species of reptile which lived in the Second era, that it is thought the birds originated. Numerous biological characteristics common to both species make this deduction possible. The beasts of the earth are not however mentioned until the sixth day in Genesis; after the appearance of the birds. This order of appearance, beasts of the earth after birds, is not therefore acceptable.
-verses 24 to 31:
"And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good."
"Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion (sic) over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth".
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."
"And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.' And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day."
This is the description of the culmination of the Creation. The author lists all the living creatures not mentioned before and describes the various kinds of food for man and beast.
As we have seen, the error was to place the appearance of beasts of the earth after that of the birds. Man's appearance is however correctly situated after the other species of living things.
The description of the Creation finishes in the first three verses of Chapter 2:
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host (sic) of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation;
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created."
This description of the seventh day calls for some comment.
Firstly the meaning of certain words. The text is taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible mentioned above. The word 'host' signifies here, in all probability, the multitude of beings created. As for the expression 'he rested', it is a manner of translating the Hebrew word 'shabbath', from which the Jewish day for rest is derived, hence the expression in English 'sabbath'.
It is quite clear that the 'rest' that God is said to have taken after his six days' work is a legend. There is nevertheless an explanation for this. We must bear in mind that the description of the creation examined here is taken from the so-called Sacerdotal version, written by priests and scribes who were the spiritual successors of Ezekiel, the prophet of the exile to Babylon writing in the Sixth century B.C. We have already seen how the priests took the Yahvist and Elohist versions of Genesis and remodelled them after their own fashion in accordance with their own preoccupations. Father de Vaux has written that the 'legalist' character of these writings was very essential. An outline of this has already been given above.
Whereas the Yahvist text of the Creation, written several centuries before the Sacerdotal text, makes no mention of God's sabbath, taken after the fatigue of a week's labor, the authors of the Sacerdotal text bring it into their description. They divide the latter into separate days, with the very precise indication of the days of the week. They build it around the sabbatic day of rest which they have to justify to the faithful by pointing out that God was the first to respect it. Subsequent to this practical necessity, the description that follows has an apparently logical religious order, but in fact scientific data permit us to qualify the latter as being of a whimsical nature.
The idea that successive phases of the Creation, as seen by the Sacerdotal authors in their desire to incite people to religious observation, could have been compressed into the space of one week is one that cannot be defended from a scientific point of view. Today we are perfectly aware that the formation of the Universe and the Earth took place in stages that lasted for very long periods. (In the third part of the present work, we shall examine this question when we come to look at the Qur'anic data concerning the Creation). Even if the description came to a close on the evening of the sixth day, without mentioning the seventh day, the 'sabbath' when God is said to have rested, and even if, as in the Qur'anic description, we were permitted to think that they were in fact undefined periods rather than actual days, the Sacerdotal description would still not be any more acceptable. The succession of episodes it contains is an absolute contradiction with elementary scientific knowledge.
It may be seen therefore that the Sacerdotal description of the Creation stands out as an imaginative and ingenious fabrication. Its purpose was quite different from that of making the truth known.
The second description of the Creation in Genesis follows immediately upon the first without comment or transitional passage. It does not provoke the same objections.
We must remember that this description is roughly
three centuries older and is very short. It allows more
space to the creation of man and earthly paradise than to
the creation of the Earth and Heavens. It mentions this
(Chapter2, 4b-7): "In the day that Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up-for Yahweh God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground;
but a flood went up from earth and watered the whole face of the ground-then Yahweh God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."
This is the Yahvist text that appears in the text of present day Bibles. The Sacerdotal text was added to it later on, but one may ask if it was originally so brief. Nobody is in a position to say whether the Yahvist text has not, in the course of time, been pared down. We do not know if the few lines we possess represent all that the oldest Biblical text of the Creation had to say.
The Yahvist description does not mention the actual formation of the Earth or the Heavens. It makes it clear that when God created man, there was no vegetation on Earth (it had not yet rained), even though the waters of the Earth had covered its surface. The sequel to the text confirms this: God planted a garden at the same time as man was created. The vegetable kingdom therefore appears on Earth at the same time as man. This is scientifically inaccurate; man did not appear on Earth until a long time after vegetation had been growing on it. We do not know how many hundreds of millions of years separate the two events.
This is the only criticism that one can level at the Yahvist text. The fact that it does not place the creation of man in time in relation to the formation of the world and the earth, unlike the Sacerdotal text, which places them in the same week, frees it from the serious objections raised against the latter.