GENESIS I IN THE LIGHT OF MODERN ASTRONOMY [c. 1958]

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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GENESIS I IN THE LIGHT OF MODERN ASTRONOMY

 

BY PETER W. STONER, Mathematician  and Astronomer

M.Sc., two years graduate work towards Ph.D., University of California. Formerly on teaching staff of University of California; thereafter Chairman of Division of Mathematics and Astronomy, Pasa City College, and Chairman of Science Division, Westmont College. Member of various national scientific organizations. Specialist in historic development of astronomical and astrophysical theories.

 

While a graduate student in the University of Cali­fornia I was asked to teach a Sunday school class of Chinese students, young men who were pursuing studies under gov­ernment sponsorship. Some twelve of these students had gone to the pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Berkeley and asked for a Sunday school class, saying frankly that they did not wish to become Christians but wished to learn about the religion of Christianity and how, and to which degree, it had influenced American culture. The pastor thought I should organize and instruct this special class, and somewhat hesitantly I agreed.

We wish to study your religion to determine its impact on culture.

 

I was immediately faced with the problem as to what should be presented to a group of this type. Since these young men had no faith in the Bible, ordinary Bible teaching seemed useless. Then I hit upon an idea. I had noticed in my undergraduate work a very close relation between the first chapter of Genesis and the sciences, and decided to present this picture to the group.

The students and I naturally were aware of the fact that this Genesis material had been written thousands of years before science had any of its present day knowledge and concepts regarding the universe, and the earth, and the life upon it. We realized that many of the teachings of people back in the days of Moses and for thousands of years there­after were very absurd when looked at in the fight of modern knowledge—knowledge available also to this group of stu­dents. Nevertheless, we “tackled” the subject with a will.

Ummm… We changed our mind. We want to become Christians now.

We spent the whole winter on Genesis I. The students took assignments to the university library, and then brought back papers marked by a thoroughness such as a teacher usually only dreams of. At the end of that winter the pastor invited me to his office and told me that the entire group had come to him saying that they wished to become Christians. It had been proved to them, they had said, that the Bible was the inspired Word of God, and they were convinced that then-own books of religion were not.

I am now going to be very frank. Up to this time I myself was a Christian, but like many others I considered the Bible to be a book giving the plan of salvation and the necessary instruction in spiritual matters, but perhaps not reliable in many parts. I myself was as much impressed by our findings as were the students. From that day (away back in 1910) have watched the developments of science very closely and have compared them with the Genesis account.

Take the very first verse of Genesis I: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We believed at the time of my Chinese student class that matter was indestruct­ible. We could change its form, but it was still matter, and in exactly the same amount.

Consequently it was the current idea that there had been no beginning to the physical uni­verse and that there would be no ending. Our only possible agreement with the Genesis statement was that if there actually was a beginning, it certainly would take God to bring it about. No other power was adequate.

But now atomic energy has come into being, and we all know that mass can be changed into energy, and energy into mass. So now the idea of creation looks more plausible. Science has now set tentative ages for many things. Some of them are: (1) the age of the earth, (2) the age of meteorites, (3) the age of the earth-moon system, (4) the age of the sun, (5) the age of our galaxy, (6) the age of the universe, (7) the time required to develop the various elements, their divisions and quantities. These ages all turn out to be nearly the same—in the neighborhood of six billion years. This situa­tion is so striking that many astronomers are now freely talk­ing about the day of creation, and they set it at about six billion years ago. This information of course the Chinese students and their teacher did not have.

Genesis I has been attacked by non-believers down through the ages, but still it stands, unmarred and majestic. I am convinced that it will withstand any future attacks by well-intentioned but mistaken theorists.

The second verse of Genesis I, in our class studies, was very difficult: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” In 1910 the Nebular Hypothesis held absolute sway in the thinking of scientific men. It had the solar system disc-shaped; Genesis had it shapeless, or without a formal shape. It theorized that the solar system had been a dense gas; Genesis has it void, or very rare. It fostered the idea that the solar system had been very hot, giving off tremendous amounts of light; Genesis says it was dark. In 1910 we could do no better than to say that we did not understand why there should be such a difference, and that possibly someday the difference would be resolved.

The change came sooner than we had expected. When the 100-inch telescope went into service Dr. E. P. Hubble went to work on the spiral nebulas. We were sure that the spiral nebulas were dense, disc-shaped bodies of very hot gas, rapidly rotating, and that the outer parts of each would col­lect to form planets and the central part would form a sun. Thus new solar systems similar to our own would come into existence.

Dr. Hubble found that these spirals were not gaseous bodies in our own galaxy at all, but were great aggregations of stars; in fact, galaxies similar to our own and far out in space, so far that they looked like disc-shaped bodies of hot gas. This discovery of Dr. Hubble’s was a great blow to the Nebular Hypothesis. This hypothesis was based primarily on the photographs of these spirals. We could almost see parts of each nebula coming off to make the various planets, and certainly the central parts would make stars like our sun!

Soon after this it was determined that if there had been a disc-shaped body of gas, hot and rotating, it could not possibly have formed a solar system but would have divided into two nearly equal parts. All of the planets put together do not constitute one-tenth of one percent of the mass of the sun. Henry Norris Russell in his book The Solar System and Its Origin gives several other arguments against the Nebular Hypothesis. So the hypothesis died. It was rapidly followed by the Planetessimal Theory and the Tidal Theory. Both of these were short-lived.

An important question still persisted: What is the second verse of Genesis I talking about? Is there anything, today, in the far distant heavens, that is without form, rare and dark? No astronomer had an answer; we knew of no such astro­nomical body. There were dark spots in the sky where we thought there just happened to be no stars. We thought we were simply looking out into vacant, outer space.

Once again Dr. Hubble went to work. He went to work on these “holes” and proved to the world, through actual photo­graphs, that they were not holes but dark nebulas. He proved that they were extremely rare—of very thin composition. They were certainly dark, and their shapes were as varied as the clouds which float across the summer sky. The problem was solved. The second verse of Genesis I refers to a dark nebula.

All present theories of astronomy bring our solar system from a “diffuse nebula,” and most diffuse nebulas are dark. The only difference between a bright nebula and a dark one is that the bright nebula has an early type star close enough to excite it so that it gives off light.

The second verse now becomes very remarkable. How did Moses know that a dark nebula existed thousands of years before science discovered the first one? And how did he know that the earth came from one?

The next few verses in Genesis I describe the formation of our solar system from the nebula. They outline the collection of a large part to make the sun, which then shines on a smaller part, the earth, producing day and night. Today we know that the earth is too small to have ever been a star, as it is only 1/333,000th of the mass of the sun. The smallest star is larger than 1/100th part of the sun’s mass. We do know, however, that the earth would become hot, and that most of the free water would be evaporated and make a very humid atmosphere. As the earth cooled off, much of the moisture in the atmosphere would precipitate upon the earth and probably cover it completely (Geology believes the earth was covered with water at this early period). Later the land would rise from the water.

The Genesis account certainly agrees with modern science. The breaking of the clouds as described in verses 14 to 18 occurs in the proper geological period, after the advent of vegetation and before the appearance of fish. The order of the appearance of life upon the earth—vegetation, fish, fowl, mammals, and man—is approved by science completely. If Moses by himself, or any other mere man, at this early age, had tried to write a story of beginnings it certainly would be full of errors. But now there is the authentic record, and there is not one single item in this Genesis chapter which dis­agrees with science as we know it today. I have obtained more technical and detailed translations of different parts of this chapter from nationally known language scholars, and in every case the agreement with science is still improved.

I have given only one of many scientific proofs of the reality of God and the reliability of the Sacred Record. Genesis I has been attacked by non-believers down through the ages, but still it stands, unmarred and majestic. I am convinced that it will withstand any future attacks by well-intentioned but mistaken theorists.

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