Science and the Genesis Account
Many people claim that science disproves the Bible’s account of creation. However, the real contradiction is, not between science and the Bible, but between science and the opinions of Christian Fundamentalists. Some of these groups falsely assert that according to the Bible, all physical creation was produced in six 24-hour days approximately 10,000 years ago.
The Bible, however, does not support such a conclusion. If it did, then many scientific discoveries over the past one hundred years would indeed discredit the Bible. A careful study of the Bible text reveals no conflict with established scientific facts. For that reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree with Christian Fundamentalists and many creationists. The following shows what the Bible really teaches.
Genesis does not teach that the earth and the universe were created in six 24-hour days just a few thousand years ago
When Was “the Beginning”?
The Genesis account opens with the simple, powerful statement: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) A number of Bible scholars agree that this statement describes an action separate from the creative days recounted from verse 3 onward. The implication is profound. According to the Bible’s opening words, the universe, including our planet, Earth, was in existence for an indefinite time before the creative days began.
Geologists estimate that the earth is 4 billion years old, and astronomers calculate that the universe may be as much as 15 billion years old. Do these findings—or their potential future refinements—contradict Genesis 1:1? No. The Bible does not specify the actual age of “the heavens and the earth.” Science is not at odds with the Biblical text.
How Long Were the Creative Days?
What about the length of the creative days? Were they literally 24 hours long? Some claim that because Moses—the writer of Genesis—later referred to the day that followed the six creative days as a model for the weekly Sabbath, each of the creative days must be literally 24 hours long. (Exodus 20:11) Does the wording of Genesis support this conclusion?
No, it does not. The fact is that the Hebrew word translated “day” can mean various lengths of time, not just a 24-hour period. For example, when summarizing God’s creative work, Moses refers to all six creative days as one day. (Genesis 2:4) In addition, on the first creative day, “God began calling the light Day, but the darkness he called Night.” (Genesis 1:5) Here, only a portion of a 24-hour period is defined by the term “day.” Certainly, there is no basis in Scripture for arbitrarily stating that each creative day was 24 hours long.
How long, then, were the creative days? The Bible does not say; however, the wording of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 indicates that considerable lengths of time were involved.
Six Creative Periods
Moses wrote his account in Hebrew, and he wrote it from the perspective of a person standing on the surface of the earth. These two facts combined with the knowledge that the universe existed before the beginning of the creative periods, or days, help to defuse much of the controversy surrounding the creation account. How so?
A careful consideration of the Genesis account reveals that events starting during one “day” continued into one or more of the following “days.” For example, before the first creative “day” started, light from the already existing sun was somehow prevented from reaching the earth’s surface, possibly by thick clouds. (Job 38:9) During the first “day,” this barrier began to clear, allowing diffused light to penetrate the atmosphere.a
On the second “day,” the atmosphere evidently continued to clear, creating a space between the thick clouds above and the ocean below. On the fourth “day,” the atmosphere gradually cleared to such an extent that the sun and the moon were made to appear “in the expanse of the heavens.” (Genesis 1:14-16) In other words, from the perspective of a person on earth, the sun and moon began to be discernible. These events happened gradually.
The Genesis account also relates that as the atmosphere continued to clear, flying creatures—including insects and membrane-winged creatures—started to appear on the fifth “day.”
The Bible’s narrative allows for the possibility that some major events during each day, or creative period, occurred gradually rather than instantly, perhaps some of them even lasting into the following creative days.b
According to Their Kinds
Does this progressive appearance of plants and animals imply that God used evolution to produce the vast diversity of living things? No. The record clearly states that God created all the basic “kinds” of plant and animal life. (Genesis 1:11, 12, 20-25) Were these original “kinds” of plants and animals programmed with the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions? What defines the boundary of a “kind”? The Bible does not say. However, it does state that living creatures “swarmed forth according to their kinds.” (Genesis 1:21) This statement implies that there is a limit to the amount of variation that can occur within a “kind.” Both the fossil record and modern research support the idea that the fundamental categories of plants and animals have changed little over vast periods of time.
Contrary to the claims of some religious fundamentalists, Genesis does not teach that the universe, including the earth and all living things on it, was created in a short period of time in the relatively recent past. Rather, aspects of the description in Genesis of the creation of the universe and the appearance of life on earth harmonize with recent scientific discoveries.
Because of their philosophical beliefs, many scientists reject the Bible’s declaration that God created all things. Interestingly, however, in the ancient Bible book of Genesis, Moses wrote that the universe had a beginning and that life appeared in stages, progressively, over periods of time. How could Moses gain access to such scientifically accurate information some 3,500 years ago? There is one logical explanation. The One with the power and wisdom to create the heavens and the earth could certainly give Moses such advanced knowledge. This gives weight to the Bible’s claim that it is “inspired of God.”c—2 Timothy 3:16.
You may wonder, though, does it really matter whether you believe the Bible’s account of creation? Consider some compelling reasons why the answer does matter.
a In the description of what happened on the first “day,” the Hebrew word used for light is ’ohr, light in a general sense, but concerning the fourth “day,” the word used is ma·’ohrʹ, which refers to the source of light.
b For example, during the sixth creative day, God decreed that humans “become many and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, 31) Yet, this event did not even begin to occur until the following “day.”—Genesis 2:2.
c For more information, watch the brief video How Can We Be Sure the Bible Is True? available on jw.org.