Understanding Genesis 1: Seeing the Majesty and Glory of God in Time
In this brief video, Physicist Ard Louis looks at two important aspects of time to consider when reading Genesis 1: chronology and the idea of “deep time”.
Louis begins here by posing a rhetorical question, i.e. “what did the writers of Genesis 1 originally mean when they spoke of seven days” and responds by saying that he thinks “it is pretty clear that that passage was a polemic in many ways”. He explains that in the days when Genesis was written, astrology was a dominant scientific paradigm—so people believed that the sun and the moon and the stars influenced their everyday lives. As such, Louis points out that it is “very striking” that the sun and the moon aren’t created until the fourth day. Louis remarks:
You can’t have a day without the sun and the moon, so clearly that suggests that there is a pattern in there—there is a structure that the person is trying to say something to us. The Hebrew words that are used in that passage are not the words for sun and moon, they are the words for greater lamp and lesser lamp so the author is clearly saying that these objects in the sky are created objects, they are not gods to be worshipped, they are lamps.
That is a scientific prediction, Louis asserts, as it is saying that the sun and the moon are not living objects, they are material objects—they are lights. By not including them until the fourth day, this in essence “demotes” them from primary importance and supports the notion that the seven days written about in Genesis were to function as a literary device as opposed to a chronological transcript of events.
Louis also talks about the idea of “deep time” and how considering the vastness of the universe is one way that we can begin to grasp this concept. “It is not that strange,” he says, “we are all used to the thought of the universe being very large…there are a hundred billion stars in the sky and probably a hundred billion galaxies. We see in the size of the universe something about the glory of God, so why shouldn’t there not also be deep time—something about the majesty and glory of God?”
Louis concludes that the Genesis story is a way of imparting deep truths—not in a journalistic fashion, but in a much deeper, more powerful way.
Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.
Ard Louis is a Reader in Theoretical Physics and a Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he leads a research group studying problems on the border between chemistry, physics and biology. He is also the International Secretary for Christians in Science, an associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and served on the board of advisors for the John Templeton Foundation.