Most people think of science and religion as polar opposites. A person can be religious, or they can believe science. Someone can follow Christ or believe Darwin. There is no in between. Despite this general attitude, many people do believe in both the Bible and modern scientific findings. Is this possible or are such people picking and choosing from each side? Can a person believe in both science and Genesis without ludicrously complex justifications or does holding to both faith and science require mental gymnastics that would stun even an Olympian? 

The answer depends on how a person defines “mental gymnastics” as well as how literally a person takes the Genesis creation account. If a person takes Genesis completely literally, then science is not compatible. Science refutes that the world was formed in six days. Genesis states that explicitly. If one is willing to view each with a grain of salt, however, one could fit science and Genesis together rather easily for the most part. 

Day One

Genesis states that “in the beginning…the earth was a formless void…Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light…and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘Day,’ and the darkness he called ‘Night.’” If this is taken literally, this does not mesh with science as the Earth existed before any form of light. If taken with a grain of salt, however, the first day does fit rather well with what science claims the beginning of the universe looked like.

Scientists believe that the universe began with the Big Bang. Before the Big Bang, there was nothing. Then, when the Big Bang occurred, light suddenly sprung into being. Stars and galaxies formed, thus in a more literal fashion separated light from dark and matter from dark matter. This would also fit with the idea of water existing before the Sun. Comets are composed in large part of ice, and early comets would have predated the Sun. There may also have been early planets with liquid water that existed before the Solar System. Unfortunately, there is no way to be sure of the existence of such planets.

If viewed purely as the story of Earth, Genesis still fits with science if taken with a grain of salt. Before Earth could be something other than a “void,” there needed to be light, in this case the Sun. The Earth would also have begun rotating as soon as it sprung into existence, hence the separation of night and day. One could also argue that the earth mentioned was not actually Earth specifically, much as how modern people do not always mean the entire universe when they say “the universe” or may use “the world” to refer to all of existence, not just the little sliver that exists on Earth. In this case, “earth” could potentially stand in for the Cosmic Egg which would make Genesis match science much more closely.

Day Two

The second day of Genesis sees God separating “the waters from the waters” to create the sky and the seas. In this account, the world was covered by water before dry land appeared. Depending on how one looks at it, this may or may not mesh with prevailing scientific theory. While the land of Earth had to exist for water to form on it, there is evidence that water in some form may have existed before Earth. The remains of comets composed largely of ice would have been trapped by the new Sun’s gravity. Similarly, carbonaceous chondrite meteorites and asteroids such as Vesta contained large amounts of water and ice and existed before the planets finished forming. As such, it is possible that Earth formed already wet. The water would have come in part from meteorites and comet fragments. Further water could have been pumped out by volcanic activity and condensed from the steam. As such, the oceans and the atmosphere would have been forming largely simultaneously. The atmosphere at first would have contained much higher amounts of water vapor than today before it condensed and fell to form lakes, rivers and continue to fill the oceans. While this does not quite fit the image of God “parting the waters,” the Bible’s more poetic language of the second day is not necessarily scientifically inaccurate.

Day Three

On the third day, dry land appeared and God made plant life. Genesis states that the plant life included “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit.” Considering that science says that land existed more or less simultaneously with the oceans, the literal creation of dry land as described in Genesis would not be scientifically accurate. If taken less than literally, Genesis again lines up for the most part with science. One could argue that the birth of dry land was due to Earth’s rocks finally drying out. All of the water and gas trapped in the crust had been released into steam or was funneled into volcanoes. The land, with the exceptions of filling lakes and rivers, was “dry” in that it no longer had large amounts of water trapped in the rocks. That water, meanwhile, fell as rain and filled in the oceans.

Genesis is also correct in stating that plant life was one of the first types of life on Earth. While chemosynthetic bacteria were likely the first forms of life on Earth, single-celled phytoplankton and similar photosynthetic organisms would not have been all that far behind them. As these gathered together to form algae blooms, plants would have been arguably the first visible lifeforms on Earth. Once again, Genesis largely lines up with science. The Bible is also correct in that terrestrial plants would have formed before any sort of terrestrial animals.

Day Four

The fourth day sees the creation of the sun and moon according to the Bible. In terms of literal creation order, science rejects this. The Sun had to exist before rocks and other debris could coalesce into the Earth. The moon was also created in Earth’s early life, likely from a violent collision with another large rocky body in the solar system. As such, from a literal standpoint, Genesis and science disagree. Taken with a grain of salt and with creation viewed purely from the perspective of an earthling lifeform, however, the fourth day may not be as impossible as it sounds. 

Many people are unaware that Earth is technically on its third atmosphere. The first atmosphere would likely have resembled something similar to the gasses of Jupiter and Saturn as it was composed almost entirely of superheated hydrogen and helium left over from the birth of the Sun. This atmosphere largely escaped Earth’s gravity, and the second atmosphere replaced it. The second atmosphere is believed to have formed from Earth’s volcanic processes. This atmosphere was composed largely of carbon dioxide, ammonia and steam. It was not until early plant life developed that substantial amounts of oxygen were added to the atmosphere.

The numerous volcanic eruptions, asteroid collisions and toxic gases would have given the young Earth a hazy, yellowish atmosphere that would have blocked a large portion of the Sun’s light, and the Sun itself would have put off 30 percent less light. Despite this, photosynthetic life developed on Earth. This is called the faint young sun paradox and has baffled scientists for years. 

Given the amount of ash and dust in the second atmosphere and the faintness of the young Sun, the Sun and moon would have been difficult to see. There is the possibility, however, that life could have flourished without either being visible at all. After all, photosynthesis relies on UV radiation, not the spectrum of light that is visible to the human eye. So, meshing science and the fourth day requires a bit more in the way of mental gymnastics, but is still possible. 

Day Five

The fifth day begins with God saying, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the Earth across the dome of the sky.” Here, science agrees halfway with Genesis. Fish are the first animals to exist according to science. Jawless fish such as lampreys would have even predated terrestrial plants. Fish as are traditionally conceived of, however, would have appeared just as Genesis states: before any other type of animals, note that fish are listed before birds, but after the beginning of terrestrial plants.

Birds are where things get tricky. Birds did not actually exist until the Jurassic Period, roughly 201 million years ago. That is over 300 million years after the first jawless fish and over 200 million years after the first cartilaginous fishes such as sharks. If “birds” are taken to represent any flying creature, the second half of day five become a little easier to defend as insects were some of the first creatures to live out of the water and predated amphibians. That said, this is still not perfectly accurate as some forms of scorpions were already living on land. 

Day Six

The final day of creation in Genesis ends with the creation of terrestrial animals and finally mankind. Here, Genesis lines up with science almost perfectly. Land animals were some of the last creatures to form, and humans came into being late in the history of terrestrial life. The first tetrapods, or four legged vertebrates, appeared on land roughly 395 million years ago. The first hominins, creatures that appeared after the divergence of evolutionary lines that would become humans and chimpanzees, did not appear until 6.5 million years ago, and anatomically modern humans did not exist until a mere 250,000 years ago. Here, Genesis lines up with science perfectly with the exception of timespan.

Genesis and science may not mesh perfectly together if one takes the Bible completely literally, but the accuracy of the Genesis creation account is incredible when it is taken with a slight grain of salt. The only events that are out of order are the existence of the Earth before the Big Bang and the creation of birds before terrestrial animals. Those, however, could be explained away using minor mental gymnastics. Even if one discounts those two elements, however, there is no other creation story that so closely mirrors the discoveries of modern science. The accuracy of Genesis is not something that is likely to be hit upon by chance but must have been guided by a Creator. Frankly, if Genesis’ accuracy was the result of chance, there still has to be a God. How else could the authors of Genesis have been lucky enough to match their work with scientific discoveries that would not be made for thousands of years? If God was not involved, then the odds have been so phenomenally shattered that statistics likely cannot explain it. Which leaves, of course, only on option: God had His hand in both Genesis and the science that would simultaneously challenge and support the Bible thousands of years later.