It is the common belief among nearly all Christians that "in the beginning" there was absolutely nothing or no one except God. Then, at one point, God spoke the word and suddenly "all things" in the entire universe sprung into existence. Most fundamentalist Christians believe that the account of creation as recorded in the first chapter of the book of Genesis says that the earth and the entire universe was created out of nothing in just six, twenty-four hour earth-days. More than that, the earth was the first thing God created and it wasn't until the fourth day that the sun and the rest of the stars in the universe were made.
Of course, this is at odds with what science tells us. From what astronomers have been able to determine, our earth was not the first "thing" created "in the beginning." Instead, according to the accepted theory of the creation of the universe, it took millions of years for the galaxies to form first and that our earth came into existence much later.
By way of contrast to other Christian faiths, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that "the elements are eternal" (D&C 93:33) and have always existed. In fact, the LDS Church specifically teaches that the elements "can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end" (History of the Church, VI p. 308). And it is from these eternal elements, existing as unorganized, unformed matter, that God shaped and created not only this earth but millions of other worlds like it as well. We also believe that this earth was not the first world God created. We further believe that God did not make the entire universe in six literal earth days but rather created this earth in six creative periods of undetermined time.
While this is much closer to what modern science tells us, the LDS church has taught this doctrine as far back as 1833 when our knowledge about the creation of the universe was relatively primitive. In fact, it wasn't until the early 1900's that scientists even began formulating ideas about how the planets and stars are made. And it wasn't until the 1920's when Albert Einstein came to the conclusion that all matter can neither be created nor destroyed but can only be rearranged.
However, most Christians contend that both science and the LDS church are wrong because God's word, as contained in the Bible, cannot be wrong. If that is so, then why does observable science seem to disagree with what the Bible says?
The reason for this may lay not so much be with bad science as it may be with misinterpreting God's word. Therefore it might be helpful if we take a closer look at what the Bible actually says and doesn't say on this subject.
The very first two verses of scripture in the Bible tell us, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and the earth was without form, and void." Many people assume that the word "heaven" as used here means the universe. Therefore, they interpret this statement as saying, "At the time when God began to create the earth and the universe, the only thing that existed was a void." Since a void has nothing in it, they conclude that before the begining of creation nothing existed but God. But is that the correct interpretation?
The next verse continues by saying, "and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Then, beginning in verse six we read, "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided 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 the evening and the morning were the second day."
In these verses, the Bible is specifically talking about the creation of the earth itself, and what it tells us is that in the beginning of the earth's creation all that existed was a dark deep ball of water. Then the Spirit of God moved upon the surface of the water and divided it into two separate parts. And the way He did this was to place "a firmament" in between, or "in the midst of the waters" so that one part of the water was above the firmament and the other part of the water was below the firmament. But then notice what the scripture tells us: "And God called the firmament heaven."
As we continue in verse nine we read, "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he seas."
As we have already seen "the firmament," which is also called "heaven," had water both above it and below it. On the third day, some of the water that was located below "the firmament" became "dry land" and was called Earth, while the rest of the water under the firmament was called seas. From this we learn that "the firmament of heaven" is directly above the earth. But how far above the earth does the firmament extend? According to the Bible, the firmament, or heaven extends all the way to where there is more water above it, because the Bible specifically tells us that the "firmament of the heaven" divided the waters from the waters.On the fourth day "God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 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. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth's And to rule over the day and over the night."
It is clear that these two lights "the greater and the lesser" refer to the sun and moon. But more importantly, the biblical account states that God set these two lights, as well as the stars, "in the firmament of the heaven." Since the sun, moon, and stars actually reside in outer space, we might therefore assume that "the firmament of the heaven" must include all of outer space. But that may not be the correct understanding.
If we say that the "firmament of heaven" means outer space, then that also means that the universe has water above it. However, science has determined that the universe has no boundaries and appears to be infinite. In that case, it is impossible for there to be water above the universe (i.e., heaven). Also, if "the firmament of heaven" refers to outer space then that forces us to conclude that the universe was completely void of stars or any other matter until the fourth day. That also means that the earth was created first before any of the stars were made.
Continuing in verse twenty we read, "And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." If God could create enough worlds in one day to fill a universe that extends into infinity in all directions, why did it take him one full day just to fill this one tiny earth with animals? But leaving that question aside, what we learn from this verse is that the fowl (i.e., birds), "fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." Therefore, it is safe to assume that the "firmament of heaven" includes the atmosphere immediately above the earth, which we refer to as the sky. But does this "heaven" extend beyond the atmosphere, into the troposphere where birds can't fly and all the way out into the exosphere, which is that region where outer space begins? In other words, how far out does the firmament of heaven go?
For the sake of discussion, if we assume that the firmament of heaven is just the atmosphere above the earth, would it be incorrect to say that God set two lights "in the firmament of heaven?" Not at all because when we look up into the atmosphere we indeed do see the sun, moon, and stars "in the firmament" or, in other words, in the sky. If that is the case, then it might be more correct to translate Genesis 1:1 as, "In the beginning God created the earth and its atmosphere, and at that time the earth itself had no form and had nothing on it." In fact, this is how some modern translations word it.
If this is true then the term "in the beginning" refers to the beginning of this earth's creation, not the beginning of the entire universe. In that case, it is very possible that the sun, moon, and stars existed long before the earth took shape but it wasn't until the fourth day of creation that these lights became visible in the earth's sky.But there are those who point to other verses of scripture to show that "heaven" is the place where God resides. After all, it was Jesus who taught us to pray to "Our Father which art in heaven" and that we should further pray to Him that "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6.10). The scriptures also tell us that the angels live in heaven with God (Matt. 22:30). Because of these and other similar scriptures, it is argued that if "heaven" refers to the earth's atmosphere, then we must conclude that God and the angels live in the sky, which is something no one believes.
But by using that same reasoning, if we say that "heaven" is where the sun and stars reside, then we would have to say that God lives somewhere in outer space, and that seems just as unlikely as Him living in our atmosphere. The scriptures also tell us that "God is above the heavens" (Psalms 57:11, emphasis added) and that "God lives in the heavens above the highest stars" (Job 22:12, CEV). According to theses verses of scripture, the Bible tells us that the "heaven" where God lives is somewhere beyond the universe. If we are to interpret the word "heaven" as meaning not only the universe but the place where God lives, then what the Bible teaches is that God made the earth before He made His own dwelling place.
However, the Bible also tells us in a number of places that rain comes from "heaven" (Deut. 11:11) and that there will come a time when God will "shut heaven, that it rain not" (Rev. 11:6). If the word "heaven" means the universe or the place where God lives, then we would have to say that rain comes from outer space or from the throne of God which is above or beyond the universe instead of from our atmosphere. As we have already seen, "heaven" has also been described as the place where the birds fly. But it is impossible for any winged creature to fly in outer space.
But there are other scriptures that confuse the issue even more. In several places we are told that "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3.10) and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3.13; Rev. 21.1). If "heaven"refers to the place where all the stars reside, why is God going to do away with the entire universe "with a great noise and the elements shall melt with fervent heat" only to then create a completely new universe when the earth is destroyed? And even more troubling is, if "heaven" is the place where God lives, why is He going to destroy His own living place along with our earth?
It is apparent that the word "heaven" has multiple meanings. In one place it is used to represent the earth's atmosphere, in other places it refers to the universe, while in other places it is meant to convey the place where God lives. It would have been easier to see this distinction if the writers of the Bible had used different words, but since they didn't then we have to determine its meaning by the context in which it is used. The context in which the word "heaven" is used in the first chapter of Genesis clearly implies the earth's atmosphere.
But there is yet another problem that faces those who believe God created the entire universe in six earth days.
As we have already seen, according to this interpretation of the Bible, the very first material object God ever created was the earth. If we continue following this interpretation we must then also believe that all the stars in the universe were made just for this planet alone. In other words, the only reason God created an infinite universe was to serve just the needs of those who live on this planet. In fact, as we have already seen, there are some who interpret the Bible as saying that when God destroys this earth, he will also destroy the rest of the universe as well, which reinforces the idea that all of the stars in "heaven," including the billions of galaxies, were made just for man. That further forces us to believe that we on earth are the only people in the entire universe.
If we look at a picture of the Milky Way galaxy, our sun appears as a mere pinpoint of light in a sea of billions of other pinpoints of light. When we compare the Milky Way galaxy to the rest of the universe it appears as one small oval in a sea of billions of other galaxies. In comparison to the universe, our earth is smaller than one drop of water in the entire ocean or a speck of dust on the Sharah desert. Yet, many Christians interpret the first chapter of Genesis as saying that it took God six days to create the earth but just one day to create the rest of the universe. However, the more scientists observe the universe, the more evidence they find that invalidates such an idea. In answer to this, traditional Christians can only answer that somehow it must be the scientists who are wrong. This has lead some to conclude that science and religion are not compatible with one another.
On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that God revealed to Moses, "And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. . . But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them. . . And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words" (Moses 1:33,35,38).
From this we learn a number of important facts. First, God has created innumerable worlds like ours prior to making the one we live on. Second, He has created all of these worlds by His Only Begotten Son. Third, the account He gave to Moses, which comprises chapter one of Genesis, is only about the creation of our earth, not any other world in the universe. Fourth, other earths have already passed away before our earth was ever created. Fifth, there is no end to God's works, meaning, that He is still in the process of creating and destroying worlds. And sixth, God has a definite purpose in mind when creating worlds.
In 1830 when these words were first published they went against all the conventional wisdom about creation at that time. While the LDS church does not always agree with everything science claims is truth, yet, the more science has learned about the universe, the more it agrees with our understanding of how God created the earth and the other planetary bodies and the less it agrees with what traditional Christianity teaches about creation.On the other hand, science has not always been accurate in their understanding of nature either. For centuries scientists believed, based on their observations, that the earth was flat and stationary, that the universe was very limited and finite, and that we were in the center of the universe around which everything rotated. In fact, this was the accepted theory of the universe just as little as five hundred years ago. Even today, with everything we know about the universe, the more we learn the more our theories change, even if subtly. Therefore, it is highly probably that when the scriptures are properly understood and when scientists are able to correctly understand the creations of God that we will see there is no real disagreement between what the Bible teaches and what science has discovered.