Inevitably, when discussing the Bible, skeptics are bound to bring up an apparent discrepancy between what we know from science and what the Bible has to offer. One such objection I’ve heard repeatedly is that Genesis appears to be saying that God created the Earth before the Sun. Skeptics will often claim this is anti-scientific, that science has already proven that to be false. Aside from the fact that skeptics often misread the early portions of Genesis, is the science really settled on this?
I first want to point out that Genesis 1 is laid out in a way that allows us to make sense of both scenarios – the Earth formed before the Sun and the Sun formed before the Earth – it depends on the specific reading and interpretative decisions. This is beside the point, but worth mentioning – there is no theological ax to grind. We’re simply going to be looking at the science.
Do we have proof that the Sun was formed before the Earth? The short answer is ‘no.’ The long answer must of necessity include some science. How do stars and planets form? Solar systems form by the breakdown of a molecular cloud as most of the mass collects at the center forming a star. The rest of the mass forms a protoplanetary disk out of which planets and other heavenly bodies are formed.
The first important fact from this process is that relatively speaking (compared to the history of the universe), stars and planets form roughly around the same time frame. It’s not like the planets form hundreds of millions of years after their host star. The outworking of the same process by which a star is formed is also the way in which planets form.
There are two predominant models of planetary formation – the core accretion model and the disk instability model. This is a topic hotly debated in science and there is no single settled planetary formation model that has reached consensus. In fact, some scientists are actually trying to find a third alternative to these models to account for the weaknesses within each. The core accretion model works well for terrestrial planets but does not work well for gaseous planets. The instability model is the opposite. While it is true that generally speaking, planets form after the host star, neither model rules out a planet completing its formation before the host star has completed forming. And the Bible does not provide exact timetables; it’s more of a general narrative, not a formal peer-reviewed scientific paper.
For now, there are ways we can conceive of for planets to form before their host star, and there may be others that we’re currently not aware of – science is always in flux. First, planet formation can begin before the protostar begins to form. So earth could have begun to form prior to the sun beginning to form. If we consider the moment of creation to be when the earth began to form, then there’s no issue in Genesis.
Second, star systems are usually not born one at a time but in clusters. Early during the formation of a new star system (unstable), there is quite a bit of chaos and instability. It’s common for planets to get flung around and out of one solar system and get captured by other ones. It’s conceivable for the earth to have formed in another solar system and to have been catapulted into our solar system.
It’s also noteworthy that most of the water on earth is thought to actually be older than the sun. IMike Wall, Much of Earth’s Water Is Older Than the Sun, http://www.space.com/27256-earth-water-older-than-sun.html For my response to why Genesis 1 is not anti-science, check out my companion article, Does Creation Day Four of Genesis Contradict Science?
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|I.||↵||Mike Wall, Much of Earth’s Water Is Older Than the Sun, http://www.space.com/27256-earth-water-older-than-sun.html|
Arthur is an author, a former agnostic, and current ambassador of Jesus of Nazareth who loves to share the best of reasons for God's ultimate reality. His love and passion are helping skeptics and Christians grow in their faith and knowledge of God through accessible materials.