Question 197:

Scientists say that the earth is approx. 5 billion years old, and human traces on earth are no older than 1-2 million years at the most. But the bible states that God created the world in six days. Did God really work so slowly?



This question is based on an erroneous understanding of the biblical creation narrative. It is not the intention of the Bible to inform about scientific data or research results with regard to the created reality. The biblical creation narrative concerns the principles of human and Christian life, it offers the reply of biblical faith to the main questions human beings have been asking since time immemorial: Where do we come from?, Where are we going?, What is our origin?, Why are we here?, Where does everything come from that is, and where is it going?. The two questions of origin and goal cannot be separated. They are important for giving our lives meaning and direction.

The topic of the origin of the world and of mankind is subject to much scientific research, which has considerably enriched our knowledge with regard to the age and size of the universe, the development of life forms and the arrival of human beings. These discoveries should encourage us to admire the greatness of the creator even more, to thank him for all his works and for the insight and wisdom he grants scholars and scientists […].

The great interest in this research is motivated by a question of a different kind which goes beyond natural science. It is not merely about the question of when and how the material universe came into being and when human beings appeared, but it is the question about the purpose of becoming; whether it happened accidentally by mere chance, as a nameless necessity, or whether it originated with an intelligent, good and greater being we call God. And if the world comes from God’s wisdom and goodness, then why evil? Where does it come from? Who is responsible? And is there any liberation from it? (Cathechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 282-284. See: )

So what does the Bible say about creation, what are the creation narratives about and how do we interpret them correctly?

The Old Testament does not only contain one but two creation narratives, i.e. Genesis 1:1-4 and Genesis 2:4b.7. They agree completely with regard to their faith in God the creator, but they express this faith with different images. This shows yet again that the bible is not interested in an empirically recognizable genesis of the world, but in the belief and faith that the world has its origin and its reason in God.

The first but younger creation account starts succinctly:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness … (Gen 1:1-4).

Then, this creation account describes how God brings forth the individual parts of creation within seven days. The pinnacle is the creation of man on the sixth day. At the end it is summarized: God saw all that he had created: it was very good (Genesis 1:31) (Katholischer Erwachsenen-Katechismus ([German] Catholic Adult-Catechism), Band 1, p. 94f.)

This (priestly) creation narrative intends to provide a logical and comprehensive list of those things that are created according to a well considered plan within the time scale of one week, concluding with the Sabbath day of rest. Called by God the creatures come into being, in the order of increasing dignity up to mankind created in the image of God and as the pinnacle of creation. The text applies a pre-scientific view of the world. One cannot look for congruence between this description and the discoveries of modern science; rather, the narrative in the form of a story bearing the hallmarks of its time is a revelation of lasting validity of the only transcendent God, who precedes the world and is superior to it; the world is his creation, i.e. it only exists in complete dependence upon him. (New Jerusalem Bible, p. 15, footnote on Genesis 1: 1-2, 4a).

„The second, older creation narrative is different. Here, man is not the pinnacle but the centre of creation. The creation of the world is therefore only hinted at briefly and succinctly, whereas the creation of man is told extensively and in a much more three dimensional way.

When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens… the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen 2:4b-7).

Both creation accounts speak the language of their time and use the imagery of their culture. In the shape which is now strange to us, they speak of a content that does not result from the ancient world view, but which was the result of Gods path with his people Israel and which represents a revelation and a truth of faith […] From the beginning creation is ordered towards completeness and wholeness .The first creation narrative expresses this when it lets God rest on the seventh day after he has completed his work (cf. Genesis 2:2). This is not to say that God has become tired from his work; rather, it says: the goal of creation is the Sabbath, the glorification of God. Thus St Paul writes that the whole creation waits with yearning and in labour pains for the revelation of the sons of God, that is for the glory of the completed Kingdom of God (cf. Romans 8:19-24). The first creation aims at the new heaven and the new earth (cf. Isaiah 65:17, 66, 22); Revelation 21:1). It will be completed when God will be all and in all (1 Corinthians 15:28). Creation is therefore not a rigid reality, but an ongoing process that is not complete but is open towards the future which for mankind is God himself. (Katholischer Erwachsenen-Katechismus ({German] Catholic Adult-Catechism), Vol. 1, p. 95).

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