I recently listened to a debate between Sam Harris and Dr. Craig. I remember listening to your audio where you mentioned that you have not come across any scientific discrepancies in the Bible. This is more or less a statement that Sam Harris made in regards to scientific discrepancies found in the Bible: ‘Genesis 1 God created water before he created light, no stars, no stars to fuse helium and hydrogen to create heavier elements like oxygen, therefore there was no oxygen in the water, either there was no oxygen in the water or God created special water.’ What is your take on is interpretation or understanding of Genesis 1?   Thanks


My response is that this is one of many supposed discrepancies which is easily resolved by simply thinking about the information. In this case, it is helpful to know the “science” of the early history of the earth, at least according to current scientific thought.

First of all, Sam is simply wrong in his order (although his apparent discrepancy is not a mere fantasy–see below). The Genesis account clearly has light in existence at the very beginning. His first day begins with “let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The Biblical account in Genesis has creation described as the creation of light, which is a very appropriate description of what we call the Big Bang. The Genesis account then has the earth formed with water on the earth on the same “day” light was created (Genesis 1:2). Already at this very early point, there is light because it describes “evening and morning… the first day.” The biblical account does not say that the earth existed before light. Scientists will tell us that our sun is a second or third generation star, created out of a supernova, which explains why we have heavier elements such as oxygen, silicon, uranium and iron in our solar system. Harris claims that the Genesis account has the earth in existence before there were stars, but this claim is simply not correct.

The curious point, which is one of the discrepancies that Harris feels he has found, is that there is night and day and yet the appearance of the heavenly objects occurs on the fourth “day.” This apparent discrepancy is in fact only an apparent one. Let me explain. Scientists believe that the early atmosphere of the earth was extremely different from what it is today. It had virtually zero oxygen and nitrogen. On the other hand what there was (at least according to the best guess of scientists) is a lot of water, methane, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and a number of other components which are in relatively small proportion in the current atmosphere. In this atmosphere, the sun and moon would be invisible from the surface of the earth. The earth was covered by a very thick layer of clouds. An analogy would be Venus, which has night and day, but from the surface of the planet one would never see the sun, moon and stars. Scientists debate about the exact composition of the early earth atmosphere, but as far as I know, they are unanimous that it would have been very cloudy and the heavenly objects would not have been visible.

Scientists expect, based on theoretical models, but also supported by data, that after life was created, it radically changed the earth’s atmosphere. Over time, life converted methane, water and ammonia into nitrogen oxygen and carbon dioxide, all of which are transparent to light. Finally, on the third “day,” (perhaps 1.5 billion years ago) the heavenly objects became visible from the surface of the earth. By the time humans appeared on the earth, near the very end of geologic time (consistent, by the way, with the Genesis account) the sun, moon and stars had been visible for a very long time.

Sam also uses his false assumption that water existed before light, which is clearly NOT consistent with the biblical description, to say that the Bible has water before there were stars. If he was right (he is not), then the means to make oxygen, in stars, would have existed after water was already in existence, which would be a contradiction because you cannot have water on a planet before you have oxygen created in stars. However, statement that the Bible says there was water before stars is simply not correct. In fact it is opposed by what the Bible says, which is that there was “day and night” already on the first “day” which clearly implies that the earth was spinning and the sun was in place.

I hope this is not all too confusing for you. Bottom line, Sam Harris’ critique is based on a rather obvious false interpretation (water before stars), and on a lack of careful thinking (day and night before visible sun and moon). You should not be intimidated by such shallow thinking on the part of Sam Harris who, the best I can tell, is not interested in careful consideration of the Biblical story. If he reads the Bible at all, it is only in an attempt to “prove” that it has scientific errors.

John Oakes

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