Created: September 9, 2015
April-June 2017 - ReWrite

The Creation Narrative of Science and the Bible

Dr. David C. Bossard

Dr. David C. Bossard
Biographical Information

II. Creation of Light in the Big Bang
Creation Day One

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
St. Augustine puzzled over these verses for many years.07 Fortunately he recorded his puzzlement in his book,  The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, and so we have a full record of it. I believe no other theologian has given comparable details of his struggles to understand the Bible. He had a truly scientific mind, and he recorded many of his questions "in the raw" so to speak without prettying them up. He asked such questions as, Why is the creation of light so important that it is the very first thing mentioned? Should we understand "light" to be taken literally or figuratively—as for example, perhaps it is "heavenly" light, or perhaps the term is used figuratively for the creation of celestial beings, the "angels of light" so to speak? How is it possible that light was created apart from darkness: doesn't light imply the existence of darkness, so how is it possible that darkness was created later, as verse 4 implies? Was this darkness a different sort of thing from the darkness of verse 2? And how could it take an entire day to merely create light: surely God could just speak the words, and it would be done immediately? Finally, if the light is literal light, how could it have been created in Day One, when the sun itself was not created until Day Four?

I think it is fair to say that—reading between the lines—St. Augustine was not himself completely satisfied with his analysis of Day One.

These are really interesting questions, and many theologians other than St. Augustine have suggested answers. But still these answers seem to require making special assumptions or adding something to the text rather than taking the words with their natural meaning. For example, the Scofield Reference Bible notes on Day One are typical of a line of exegesis that is still strong today. The Scofield Bible was very influential during the first half of the 20th century. He stated,
13 The 'light' here of course came from the sun." To reinforce this conclusion, he had to conclude that the sun was obscured by a heavy cloud cover until Day Four. This led to a whole speculative view that involved a prior ruined earth and other features developed in his notes, but that are not contained in the passage. In fact, the light of Day One did not come from the Sun, answering St. Augustine's puzzlement (note 07).

This situation all changed with the discovery—only since the mid-20th century—of experimental evidence for the Big Bang and the subsequent evolution of the universe since that event. The true facts revealed by  the 
Standard Cosmological Model give a natural explanation that does not require all of this added speculation.

First and most important, this discovery showed that Day One is not just the creation (or some say, the renewal) of the earth, but it records the creation of the universe itself. From nothing, as far as science can determine.

Why is the creation of light mentioned as the very first act of creation? Because at the Big Bang instant, the entire universe began as a point of light, and has expanded into nothingness at (nearly) the speed of light from that time to the present. Space and time were created at that instant.

Should we understand "light" to be taken literally or figuratively? The light of the Big Bang is physical light, so the light of verse 3 could be interpreted as literal light. It is so concrete an event that its time can be precisely determined (see above remarks). Whether it is also the creation of "spiritual" light is something that the theologians can discuss, but at least the Big Bang was physical, literal light, albeit at such high temperature that no light or heat on earth or in today's universe can compare with it.

So Day One marks the beginning of the universe, of space, and of time. As we remarked above, the setting for Genesis 1:2 is before the beginning.

How is it possible that light was created apart from darkness? There is no contradiction here, since the light is quite physical. Within a small fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe expanded and cooled to the point where some of the elementary particles could hang together: electrons, and the quarks that  combine to form protons and neutrons.

About a second after the Big Bang the universe cooled and expanded to the point where the nuclei of hydrogen and helium began to form. These are the primordial elements from which all of the elements formed much later. [For a very readable description of this see the book First Three Minutes] This continued for about 20 minutes, and then the universe cooled to the point that further fusion ceased for the time being. There was no darkness in this new universe; it was all light created in the original Big Bang.

So, Doesn't light imply the existence of darkness? Answer: No.

How is it possible that darkness was created later? Darkness entered into the universe when the temperature dropped to the point that neutral atoms could form (i.e. Hydrogen and Helium nuclei could hold onto orbiting electrons to produce neutral atoms). This occurred about 379,000 years after the Big Bang, when the background temperature of the universe dropped to about 3,000°K. When this happened, photons of background radiation would not be sucked up by nuclei, and could travel (on average) undisturbed to the edges of the universe.The background sky then darkened and darkness entered the universe. [Something analogous explains why days are bright and nights are dark and show the stars].

Was this darkness a different sort of thing from the darkness of verse 2?  Very interesting question. And I think the scientific answer is (as far as we can determine), Yes. Because the temperature of "nothing" is 0°K (absolute zero) which is a temperature that cannot be reached in the entire universe because of the residual echoes of the Big Bang (about 2.7°K).

... Now I suppose someone could maintain that these verses do not describe the Big Bang. But identifying the Big Bang with these verses provides very nice and scientifically accurate answers to St. Augustine's questions. And if that identity is denied, then they are left with the same puzzles that St. Augustine faced.

Was the sun itself not created until Day Four?  This question has nothing to do with the interpretation of Day One, so it is not necessary to answer it here. It is my view that the Solar System formed at some time between Day One and Day Two, but that event is not explicitly mentioned in Genesis 1.

The True Interpretation of Day One
Probably no verses better illustrate the confusion caused by misunderstanding of what is actually being said. It's good, though, that the theologians were puzzled, because in fact they had no basis for understanding the actual events of the day or their true meaning, and so it led to many attempts at rationalization. The basic puzzles (and the true answer from modern science) are:

• Is Day One actually the start of creation, or is it a re-creation?
Answer: Day One is the actual start. It is the Big Bang, the beginning of space and time. At the Big Bang there was no matter: the whole universe consisted of radiant energy—light.
• How could there be light before the sun was (apparently) put in place in Day Four?
Answer: The Sun itself was formed from the light of the Big Bang. There had to be light before there could be the matter needed to form a Sun or the solar system, as nonsensical as that may have sounded to both scientists and theologians before the mid-20th century.
• How could there be light before matter?
All matter was formed from the light of the Big Bang. But the creation of matter other than the primordial elements Hydrogen and Helium, had to be preceded by the creation of darkness which converted the universe from radiation-domination to gravitation-domination—from a plasma universe to a material universe.
• Is the "light" to be spiritualized or taken figuratively? (Augustine)
Answer: It makes complete sense to take it literally, as meaning radiant energy. Whether there may also be a figurative or spiritual aspect is something the theologians have to figure out! In my own view the Creation account of Genesis 1 only concerns the physical universe—our own space and time—and does not treat the beginnings of the spirit world which is a separate creation.
• Is the light a clearing of earth's atmosphere?
Answer: No. The earth does not exist on Day One. The meaning of "empty and void" in verse 2 means that the physical earth did not yet exist.

With the discoveries of modern physics, the correct interpretation of Day One is evident!

Further Thoughts: From the viewpoint of both theology and of science, these verses of Day One are the most profound and most unexpected statements of the entire creation account, perhaps in the entire Bible. Who would have thought that the proper way to begin a creation account is with the creation of light? And yet, with the insight of modern science, this is exactly the correct way to begin the creation account.08 In truth, the universe did begin with the creation of light—pure radiant energy at intense heat: so hot that no elements, not even protons and neutrons, or the quarks that form them, could exist. This beginning is  the Big Bang.

Who would have thought that light is the most important thing to begin the creation account? Isn't the most important thing something material? Or objects: the Earth and Sky (as the Egyptian myths have it)? Or perhaps that elusive thing life? Or even the Sun and Moon—names that do not appear in the entire Genesis account—and stars? Some people imagine that "light" in this verse is a stand-in for the Sun, and that this verse refers to the light from the Sun (that's Scofield's view09). All of this misses the point—forgivably, because the full truth of the matter was not even known until the mid-1900s. Even Albert Einstein didn't know.



II.01 [*fn] II.01 Note for II.01

II.02[*fn]II.02 Note for II.02

II.03 [*fn]II.03 Note for II.03

II.04 [*fn]II.04 Note for II.04

II.05 [*fn]II.05 Note for II.05

[*fn]^n07 St. Augustine, Op. cit., Ch. 19, §38 asks whether this light is "spiritual light … or material light, celestial or supercelestial, even existing before the heavens?[emphasis added]" How close he was to the truth of the matter! This is followed (§39) by the famous statement that warns theologians against making assertions regarding matters of science of which they are ignorant: "Christians should not talk nonsense to unbelievers."

Many theologians thought that the light of Day One should be understood in a figurative or spiritual sense. Augustine tended to move in this direction. See John F. McCarthy, A Neo-patristic Return to the First Four Days of Creation, Part III - The Days of Creation According to St. Augustine (1993) "He puzzled over the creation of light on the first day, if the sun, the moon, and the stars came into place only on the fourth day….Not having found a satisfactory solution to this question, he considered the possibility that the light created on the first day was a spiritual light…."

One theologian even argued that the Creation could not begin with light in Day One, because the creation of matter must come before light. This led to the conclusion that the creation took place in Genesis 1:1. But in fact, the truth is the exact opposite of this: modern science asserts that matter comes from light (radiant energy) and so light must come before matter.

[Give other Refs for interpretations of "light" in Day One]

[*fn]^n08  To my knowledge, Pope Pius XII was the first recent theologian to suggest this deep meaning of Day One. See his paper, "To the Members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences" 22 November 1951 (Latin: translate with Google Translate).

[*fn]^n09 "The 'light' of course came from the sun, but the vapour diffused the light. Later the sun appeared in an unclouded sky." The Scofield Reference Bible, 1917 Ed., Note 4 on Genesis 1:3.

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