The Scale of Creation in Space and Time

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Abstract: The accounts of creation in Genesis, Moses, and Abraham as well as in higher endowments of knowledge given to the faithful are based on visions in which the seer lacked the vocabulary to describe and the knowledge to interpret what he saw and hence was obliged to record his experiences in the imprecise language available to him. Modern attempts to explain accounts of these visions frequently make use of concepts and terminology that are completely at odds with the understanding of ancient peoples: they project anachronistic concepts that the original seer would not have recognized. This article reviews several aspects of the creation stories in scripture for the purpose of distinguishing anachronistic modern reinterpretations from the content of the original vision.

This essay derives from a presentation made at the 2013 Interpreter Symposium on Science and Religion: Cosmos, Earth, and Man on November 9, 2013. Details on the event, including links to videos, are available at An expanded version of the symposium proceedings will be published in hardcopy and digital formats.

The Extent of Creation

Genesis is often read as a description of the origin of the Universe rather than the Earth. But ancient views of the cosmos had no concept of anything remotely similar to our modern sense of the word “Universe.” In the ancient world [Page 72]the general concept was that Earth was the center of creation. The heavens were the night sky as seen by the naked eye from Earth’s surface, tacitly assuming it to be a local and Earth-fixed phenomenon. The cosmos so imagined by most philosophers may have been mere thousands of kilometers in diameter, although Archimedes suggested a size of about two light years. The cosmos (Greek: ὁ κόσμος; ”order”) was an intimate spherical volume centered on Earth and containing the Sun, Moon, and known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). These seven bodies were generally pictured as much smaller than Earth and very close. They were all assumed to travel around Earth, which was fixed and immobile at the center of the Kosmos. This set of seven wandering heavenly bodies, collectively called “planets” (Greek: oἱ πλάνητες ἀστέρες; “wandering stars”) was regarded as complete and final, since seven was a mystical number symbolic of perfection. Similarly, 3½ was regarded as a broken number symbolic of disaster, as in Revelation. In Latin, each such planet was referred to as stella errans, “wandering star,” or “unruly star,” with no concept that Earth and the planets were bodies of similar nature. The earth (lower case) was literally the ground on which we stood, in classical thought the sole fixed base in all creation. Earth (capitalized) is a modern concept that recognizes our planet as yet another member of a family of related bodies, a fellow-wanderer in the Sun’s family, not the center of all creation. It embodies the Copernican notion of Earth as an eighth wanderer.

The seven planets of antiquity wandered in complex and largely unpredictable (unruly; rule-less) patterns across the sky. There was no room for planetary satellites (moons), asteroids, etc. Meteors, comets, or meteorites in this conception must not be real material bodies, but signs sent by God. Further, the seven heavenly bodies must be perfect, featureless celestial spheres, not composed of gross matter. It was implicit that the creation of this tiny Earth-centered cosmos was a single [Page 73]creative event or episode. Our present understanding of the vastness of the Universe is a product of twentieth century astronomical research, completely alien to the ancient mind. Indeed, the Universe as now understood is vastly larger than any astronomer of the year 1900 could have imagined. Since all ancient creation concepts were Earth-centered and local, they were stories of the creation of Earth. Everything else was either incidental or non-physical. Earth was not so much the center of creation as the only material body in creation.

These conceptions persisted for millennia. There is a wonderful (but sadly undocumented) tradition that Thomas Jefferson, no mean natural philosopher himself, upon reading of the 1807 fall of the Weston, Connecticut, meteorite in Silliman’s American Journal of Science, responded, “I would find it easier to believe that two Yankee professors would lie, than that stones should fall from the sky.” ((“Ursula Marvin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reports that the closest remark recorded from Jefferson on the subject is as follows: ‘We certainly are not to deny what we cannot account for.… It may be very difficult to explain how the stone you possess came into the position in which it was found. But is it easier to explain how it got into the clouds from whence it is supposed to have fallen? The actual fact, however, is the thing to be established’” (Linda T. Elkins-Tanton, Asteroids, Meteorites, and Comets (New York City, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010), 24).)) As late as the mid-1800s meteorites were often assumed to be volcanic debris.

The cosmos thus pictured did not even include the stars. Until the seventeenth century it was nearly universally accepted that the surface of the cosmic bubble, the black “dome of heaven,” was close to Earth and enclosed all creation. This “firmament” was a solid (firm) dome surrounding our little cosmos. The stars were often described as pinholes in the firmament that admitted light from the celestial realms above into our tiny universe. The Latin word firmamentum conveyed no sense of vast spaces and countless other Suns and worlds. It meant a support, framework, or prop—a strong, [Page 74]solid structural element. The dome of the sky was just that, a dome. To the ancients, therefore, the heavens were just the local envelope that surrounded Earth and its seven celestial companions. The scriptural account of creation was a narration of the creation of Earth and, implicitly, its seven accompanying wanderers. Calling it an account of the creation of the Universe is a historical absurdity.

If we were to define “Universe” as meaning everything that exists, the Hebrews and Greeks would have pictured it as referring at least to Earth, and possibly to the realm of the seven wanderers (the part of the Solar System known to them), so that their understanding of the word “Universe” would have reflected a wildly different concept of the scale of material existence than that familiar to us. The heavens, what can be seen by the unaided eye from Earth’s surface, would correspond rather closely to their understanding of what “Universe” must mean. This was the general view of antiquity. This was the model adopted by Aristotle and passed by him down through the Middle Ages: a cozy, Earth-centered creation in which Earth itself was the only true material object. Aristotle, arguing that Earth was the center, and that “all things tend toward the center,” concluded that other gravitating bodies were impossible because “there cannot be more than one center.” ((Aristotle, On the Heavens, Book 1, Part 8.)) There were no other stars, no other Earths. Scripture, interpreted in this manner, seemed to make Creation synonymous with the creation of Earth.

This conception had not been shared by all the Greeks. Some imagined the stars to be other Suns, each with a cosmos of its own, packed together like a barrel full of bubbles. But Aristotle argued that such bubbles had to be spherical (since, according to Plato, the sphere was a perfect shape, and everything in the heavens was by definition celestial and therefore perfect). Spheres, however, cannot be packed together so as to fill space. [Page 75]Therefore if there were other κoσμoι, there would have to be voids in the interstices between the bubbles. But this was impossible under Aristotle’s principle that “nature abhors a void,” and thus it was impossible for the stars to be other suns with their own families of planets. Note that all these governing principles (perfection of spheres, mystical numbers, abhorrence of voids) were nothing more than the wisdom of men, not based upon observations of the Universe and not even in principle testable or verifiable. The authority of a Plato or Aristotle took precedence over observation. Aristotle’s writings, adopted and taught by the Church, shaped interpretations of scripture for centuries to come: our understanding of sacred texts was made to conform to pagan philosophy.

The Age of Earth

Eighteenth and nineteenth century authorities typically take the word “day” in Genesis to be literally one modern Earth day, even though such days did not exist until day four of the creation, and the Hebrew word יוֹם (yōm) was used both literally and figuratively, as in English. It is well known that such a constrained time scale is ruled out by every available method of dating astronomical and geological history.

The antiquity of Earth was a subject of active debate in the early nineteenth century. Some adherents of a conservative interpretation of scripture ignored or sought to explain away the overwhelming evidence from geology. The more liberal scientific interpretations of geological history suggested an age of 100,000 to millions of years for Earth. Almost alone, W. W. Phelps, Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham scribe, offered a vastly larger perspective. In the Times and Seasons, a letter from Phelps to the Prophet’s brother William states:

That eternity, agreeable to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system [Page 76](not the world) ((“The phrase ‘(not the world)’ was added to the 1844 article as originally published. It is not known who added the phrase — Phelps, the editor, or someone else” (E. R. Paul, Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 190 n. 47).)) almost 2555 millions of years; and to know that deists, geologists and others are trying to prove that matter must have existed hundreds of thousands of years:—it almost tempts the flesh to fly to God, or muster faith like Enoch to be translated and see and know as we are seen and known! ((W. W. Phelps, “The Answer,” Times and Seasons 5 (December 1844): 758.))

Lacking any explanation of what was meant by “this system” and “the world,” it is difficult to compare these numbers to much more precise ages of specific events determined by science. The nineteenth-century usage of “world” encompassed everything from planet to Creation, whereas the word “system” in an astronomical context suggests the Solar System.

The relationship between human time and God’s time is hinted at in several places in scripture. The Bible offers only a single explanation when Peter writes:

But, beloved, be not ignorant of one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8, emphasis added)

This certainly cautions us regarding the figurative nature of this measure of time, and suggests that God’s time is enormously flexible compared to our Earthly time. But both of the statements in 2 Peter 3:8 cannot simultaneously be literally true.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has also commented that the days of creation are figurative, and not to be taken literally. In the June 1982 Ensign he wrote, “What is a day? It is a specified time period; it is an age, an eon, a division of eternity.” ((Bruce R. McConkie, “Christ and the Creation,” Ensign (June 1982), 11.)) We [Page 77]commend this statement to those Church members who believe that Elder McConkie advocated a one-week duration for the creation.

Considering that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 refers to “…this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence,” what led Phelps to speak of Earth as 2,555 million years old? The answer appears to be straightforward. Though 7000 Earth years is in conflict with all physical, chemical, genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence, 7000 years of God is not ruled out. The arithmetic is easy. One day of God is 1000 years of man, and therefore in Joseph Smith’s reckoning, a day of God is 365 × 1000 days of man. The 2.555 billion years in question therefore corresponds to 2,555,000,000/365,000 years of God, which is 7000 years of God for each day of Earth’s existence. A more careful calculation, using the true average length of the year including leap years (365.257 days) gives 2,556,799,000 Earth years. Clearly Joseph Smith did not intend the “7000 years” of Earth’s age to refer to Earth years.

The same number surfaces again in Elder McConkie’s address, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” delivered at BYU in 1980. He refers to God as “an infinite and eternal being who has presided in our universe for almost 2,555,000,000 years,” ((Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven Deadly Heresies,” in 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1980), 75.)) but without any indication of the source or significance of that number.

In the Book of Abraham (5:13), after a discussion of the creation of Earth in which the stages are called “times” instead of days, we find “Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time… for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.” This may have been the scriptural basis for Phelps’s calculation.[Page 78]

Creation as an Ongoing Process

The creation of Earth is explicitly described in LDS scripture as a process of bringing order to chaotic matter, not as the creation of matter ex nihilo. This is in perfect accord with the scientific evidence regarding the creation of Earth. It also places the origin of matter in the distant past, not as a part of the events surrounding Earth’s formation, a conclusion also in accord with scientific studies of the origin of the elements starting 13.7 billion years ago.

LDS scripture, beginning with the Book of Moses, portrays creation as diachronic: spread out over time. Many worlds came into existence before Earth existed, and many no longer exist; creation continues to the present. ((See Moses 1:33-38.)) In LDS doctrine, there are governing laws “irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundation of the world,” ((D&C 130:20.)) on the basis of which laws worlds come into being, age, and die. Life on earlier worlds is a natural consequence of this view.

President Snow’s couplet saying that God once lived in mortality on a world similar to ours requires that generations of planets pre-existed Earth. The laws of nature, on which the formation, evolution, and death of worlds over lifetimes of billions of years are predicated, must have been in existence long before the formation of our planet.

Thus the origins of the Universe and of Earth were widely separated events. The origin of Earth and the rest of the Solar System 4.55 billion years ago occurred in the context of a collapsing interstellar cloud, just as we see today in the Orion Nebula and elsewhere, accompanied by the simultaneous formation of thousands to millions of other stars and planetary systems in a starburst. The role of stars in the Earth Creation story is variously represented by the different scriptural [Page 79]sources. Genesis says that on the fourth day “he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.” ((Genesis 1:16-17.)) The Book of Moses says “the stars also were made even according to my word. And I, God, set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.” ((Moses 2:16.)) The Book of Abraham likewise has the Sun, Moon, and stars “organized” in the “expanse of heaven” on the fourth “day.” ((Abraham 4:14-15.)) We are also told in another place that “he caused the stars also to appear.” Is it just that the stars became visible from the vantage point of Earth’s surface on the fourth day, or were they created after Earth was already old enough to have life? Interestingly, the astronomical evidence favors most stars being far older than Earth, but the starburst associated with the origin of the Solar System would also have formed thousands to millions of nearby stars in the same creative episode, some forming a little earlier than the Sun, and some a little later.

LDS scriptures conform well to our reading of Genesis as the story of the creation of Earth. The extension of this scripture to the Universe and its origin is inconsistent with science and is an anachronistic misreading of the story, inserting the concept and word Universe where scriptures do not. Creation was going on for billions of years before the creation of Earth and continues today. Earth is indeed billions of years old, as Joseph Smith was one of the very first to say.

The visions recounted in scripture, viewed as attempts to convey the seer’s experiences without access to modern terminology, are remarkably informative and deserving of study. We would do well to try to picture what the seer saw, and to be cautious in our interpretation of those visions in terms of concepts alien to the seer’s conceptual framework.[Page 80]

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About John S. Lewis

John S. Lewis is Professor Emeritus of Planetary Sciences and Co-Director of the Space Engineering Research Center at the University of Arizona. He was previously a Professor of Planetary Sciences and Chemistry at MIT. He was a Visiting Associate Professor at the California Institute of Technology in 1973 and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, PRC for the 2005-2006 academic year. He is presently Chief Scientist for Deep Space Industries, an asteroid-mining company.

22 thoughts on “The Scale of Creation in Space and Time

  1. In the Book of Moses, God first shows Moses the broad sweep if his creations and innumerable in by aborted worlds at different stages of development. Then God says he will focus on showing Moses the earth where Moses dwells. Then the account of Genesis One begins, which we now understand explicitly that it is a story focusing on our planet and its environs. Genesis One does not describe anything like the Big Bang, it does not even mention Venus, Mars, Jupiter or Saturn.

  2. So the creation account is only about Earth? Perhaps so, but is it just me that sees in Genesis a scriptural rendering of the Big Bang? I’m no cosmologist. I’m not even a cosmetologist, but still…..

    • Genesis has two creation accounts. Moses has two creation accounts. Abraham has two creation accounts.

      The first account in all three cases is the “spiritual creation” as described by Moses 2:5, 7. The second account in all three cases is the “natural creation” or physical creation of the earth as described by Moses 2:5, 7, 9. You can really see the difference when you compare Abraham 4 to Abraham 5: The first account (chapter 4) describes PLANS and PREPARATIONS where things are set in order. The second account (chapter 5) describes the EXECUTION of those plans and decisions in regard to this earth. The proof is in Abraham 5:3 where “they (the Gods) counseled…and thus were their decisions…”. In verse 5:4 they come to this earth and do the work.

      It is my opinion that the first account is the more general, first creation of all things. That was done once. But the worlds described by Moses 1:37,38 are each created in their own time. The earth is not the only world created, and when each world is created, they follow the account given in the “natural creation” chapter.

      See the link I posted in a comment above for more information.

      • Daron,
        I can’t quite make out your table comparing the three ‘versions’ of the creation – might by my poor enlargement skills; I’ll keep trying. But I appreciate your perspective.
        On this most recent post, you said:
        “The first account in all three cases is the “spiritual creation” as described by Moses 2:5, 7. The second account in all three cases is the “natural creation” or physical creation of the earth as described by Moses 2:5, 7, 9.”
        I wonder if your “spiritual creation” reference might be Moses 3 (same verses) instead?

        • Ah, yes, that was a mistake. Those verses are in chapter 3 as you indicated. Good catch.

          Sorry for the resolution on the chart. Try clicking on it. Or, save it to your desktop and open it there.

          I’m still trying to figure out a good way to get charts out of Excel. It would look a whole lot better had I done it by hand in CorelDraw.

  3. All this is intellectually stimulating and a lot of fun, as it should be; ‘man is that he might have joy.’ (2 Ne 2.25) This is, of course since we live in a temporal, telestial world, all speculative. Since the scriptures encourage speculation (Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. (Matt. 7.7)) and speculation is the beginning of learning, we should continue to explore, ask, seek, knock. But with minds that are ever ready to receive correction.

    We need to know the source of any answers we arrive at. Some answers will be useful for some things but not for others. Think how Newtonian physics gives us a lot of useful stuff but quantum physics are necessary for other stuff.

    Is all this pondering and theorizing about creation important for our eternal salvation and doctrines we use every day like the order of the priesthood? Some may think not; that we can put it aside for future reference. But Abraham has a different take on it: But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me. (Abr. 1.31) But that may have to do with his job as Court Astronomer for Pharaoh (see Abr. facsimile 3)

    Modern science has given us a lot of wonderful things, including Scientific American magazine. It’s been a while since I looked, but I imagine there is still the feature at the beginning of each issue republishing articles from 50, 100, and 150 years ago. It is an interesting exercise if humility to see see what was ‘hard science’ not so long ago, but is sometimes laughable today.

    When we accept the Joseph Smith as a prophet and the reality of the First Vision and the visit of Moroni with beings from an unspecified other existence descending through the air or the roof and ceiling in some sort of light that exceeded the glory of the sun and then stood in the air to talk and open visions of other places and stuff… Well, we have to admit that we believe that God and His angels are not bound by the laws of physics as we know them. But ah, what glorious possibilities for speculation open to our minds!

    Let us therefore continue to speculate and theorize, to ask, seek, knock with faith sufficient that some day we will be able to say with Abraham our father, ‘Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee.’ (Abr. 2.12) Thus I, [insert name, along with] Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made; (Abr. 3.11)

  4. On the basic issue of the age of the universe, because of the speed of light there is a direct correlation between the size of the universe and the age of the universe. Since the most distant galaxies we can see with telescopes are over 20 billion light years away, the age of the universe is on the same scale, about 14 billion years.

    The calculation of the age of rocks based on radioactive decay of uranium, and the age of organic materials based on the radioactive decay of Carbon 14, is based on the same nuclear science that enables us to make nuclear bombs and nuclear power plants, and which explains the processes of nuclear fusion in stars. It explains how most of the elements in our bodies and in the earth around us were created in supernovas and then incorporated into the sun and its planets. It is also related to the quantum physics that is critical to the creation of modern cell phones and computers.

    So over and above the study of geologic processes and time periods, including rates of sedimentation and fossilization, and cores through sedimentary rocks, other basic principles of “hard science” that we use every day affirm the great age of the earth, its elements, and the universe.

    But even beyond that, cosmology and nuclear science have revealed that a dozen or so numbers that describe the physical universe have been finely tuned to enable life to exist. There is nothing in science that determines those numbers as deductions from first principles. They appear to be totally arbitrary, and yet they have been set at values that enable our living world to exist. Science has no explanation for these numbers. Many scientists have expressed the view that these conditions are evidence that the values were intentionally selected at the time the universe was created. It is one of the most powerful scientific arguments for the reality of God as the Creator, yet people who push the idea of Young Earth Creationism and reject modern science are tossing that evidence away.

  5. This is a valuable article, that reminds us that a careful reading of
    Genesis One is NOT about the creation of the universe as WE know it, but the observable earth and sky as known by people about 1000-2000 BC.

    The people of those times also had an expansive concept of the “waters” in the world, connecting the known underground springs and streams with the obviously blue and water filled heavens.

    Another guide to how they saw the cosmos was Dante’s Divine comedy, which reveals that the center of the earth is inhabited by Satan. Being at the center of all things was not a privileged position, it was the PIT of hell! Copernicus proposed ELEVATING the earth into a celestial body. The whole notion of Copernican mediocrity as a scientific principle is based on a myth that misrepresents what people believed in the time before Galileo and Kepler. And it ignores the fact that Aristarchus argued for a sun-centered cosmos, back around 200 BC.

    Once the Greeks had calculated the size of the earth (pretty accurately!), the size of the sphere of heaven had to be many times larger, meaning that the stars, plus the moon, sun, and planets, were rotating around the earth at a dizzying speed! The hypothesis that the earth rotated rather than the stars proposed a more rational speed for things, and simplified the paths of the celestial bodies.

    The Book of Moses makes explicit that the Genesis creation story is about this earth, in the midst of innumerable other suns and inhabited worlds. Once it is properly understood, Genesis One becomes a Table of Contents to a book of earth science. It corresponds to the basic events that science now understands were involved in the history of the Earth. That is remarkable, in an age when most creation stories involved anthropomorphized gods creating the cosmos through sex, battle, etc. Genesis One is very susceptible to being depicted through animation, and looks like scenes from the Science Channel. The degree of correlation to modern science is remarkable.

    Likewise, things that Joseph Smith said about the cosmos, including innumerable inhabited worlds, don’t find scientific support until just the last couple of decades, where they sound prescient. The earth being made of small planets colliding, Dark Matter, extra-solar planets, the accelerating inflationary universe and Dark Energy, go beyond the Big Bang and bespeak an infinite cosmos where God operates eternally.

  6. I would also like to add that we are very willing to take the first creative days or yom as figurative, but don’t even think twice about perhaps Peter 3:8 is just as figurative. Why is that? A cursory study of both the New and Old Testament would show that numbers held great meaning for those people and cultures.

  7. Nice article! I love science, but I think it is dangerous to try to align science with religion, because science is a moving target as much as humans seeing through a glass darkly. Still, I love this game.

    I read that a day in Genesis is interpreted as a 24 hour period by Creationists, because everywhere else in the Bible where the word “day” is associated with a number specifier, then it obviously refers to a 24 hour period, so “day” must be a 24 hour period in Genesis. The problem with this is that this is a method of science. This is a double standard, to claim that a method of science produces truth when applied to the Bible, but falsehood when applied to the earth.

  8. As God spend six days (interpret day here how you like) creating the world and then resting on the seventh, he will sanctify (rest) on the seventh thousand year of the earths “temporal” (post creation) existence (the millennium).

    Since seal 1, the first thousand years, opens up with a guy on a horse riding around conquering nations, and the seventh thousand years has Christ returning, using the authors numbers, D&C 77 does not declare the age of the earth at 2.5 billion years, but that there will be 2.5 billion years of human history! It does not appear the author, or anyone at the Interpreter doing peer review, has read D&C 77 or the Revelation of John.

    While paraphrasing McConkie,”an infinite and eternal being who has presided in our universe for almost 2,555,000,000 years.” Obviously, McConkie is not speaking of the earth, but the universe. So is the earth as old as the universe? How does the author think Phelps and McConkie are on the same page here? How does he think people are going to buy into his theory when his own citation openly contradicts his theory?

    Steve cites McConkie, who long ago condemned the false doctrine now recycled by the Interpreter: “”agreeable to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt, has been going on in this system [not this world], almost two thousand five hundred and fifty-five millions of years”…The time mentioned has no reference, as some have falsely supposed, to the period of this earth’s existence”

    Steve’s collection of sources explains what Bruce R. meant in his Deadly Heresies sermon.

    The author is no doubt right about the math used to get the 2.55 billion figure, but he clearly can’t connect it to the geological age of the earth via D&C 77, or through McConkie, and almost certainly not through Phelps and the Book of Abraham.

    And then there was this gem: “Besides, as Einstein showed, play with gravity enough in a local spot in the Universe and you can run a billions years off the clock and yet only take a day to do it.”

    Anyone who thinks this is what Einstein showed simply doesn’t understand what Einstein did.

  9. Clearly Joseph Smith did not intend the “7000 years” of Earth’s age to refer to Earth years.

    Upon consideration of all of Joseph’s teachings on this subject it becomes extremely difficult to imagine he did not have a sufficient command of English to render his conception of the full duration of the Earth’s temporal existence in plainer terms, if he “clearly” did not intend “seven thousand years” to be taken as seven thousand years. Indeed, Joseph “clearly” appears to have been a Biblical literalist. In what may be one of the earliest FAQs for the LDS faith, Joseph said this.

    First–“Do you believe the Bible?”

    If we do, we are the only people under heaven that does, for there are none of the religious sects of the day that do.

    Second–“Wherein do you differ from other sects?”

    In that we believe the Bible, and all other sects profess to believe their interpretations of the Bible, and their creeds. – TPJS p. 119

    Joseph was clear and consistent on this subject.

    Other attempts to promote universal peace and happiness in the human family have proved abortive; every effort has failed; every plan and design has fallen to the ground; it needs the wisdom of God, the intelligence of God, and the power of God to accomplish this. The world has had a fair trial for six thousand years; the Lord will try the seventh thousand Himself. – TPJS, p. 252

    And we cannot, with integrity intact, pretend we don’t know what he meant, since the inverse of “temporal” in D&C 77:6 is “eternal,” or “spiritual,” as may be confirmed by examining Webster’s 1828 dictionary of the English language. Taken in totality, Joseph clearly believed the Earth would have a temporal existence, or continuance, of seven thousand years, with Christ ruling for the seventh thousand years.

    From this article, and others like it, as well as the interesting fact that D&C 77 has not been, and cannot currently be, arrived at via the scripture search engine (try searching for “temporal existence“), one may easily conclude that we don’t believe the Bible anymore, but rather our interpretations of the Bible, and only if those interpretations do not bring our beliefs into conflict with the dominant philosophy of our age, which is scientism. And not only do we not believe the Bible, but we also do not believe the teaching of Joseph Smith on the subject of the continuance of the Earth, which was duly canonized in the D&C.

    We are specifically and directly warned against those who mingle the philosophies of men with scripture, and are figuratively commended for disbelieving their teachings in preference to awaiting true messengers from the heavenly throne. Uniformitarianism and naturalism are philosophical assumptions, not necessary truths of reality, and neither is logically compatible with the scriptures.

    We might give profitable consideration to an aspect of the process by which the historical “Great Apostasy” occurred – the general loss of heavenly gifts by the Church coincided with efforts by the Christian apologists to show that, just like their sophisticated, worldly, and scientific disputants, educated Christians didn’t believe the scriptures literally either, and that, properly understood (IE, allegorically or metaphorically), the scriptures taught the same concepts and principles already found in the teachings of the philosophers. I recommend re-reading Nibley’s The World and the Prophets, as well as Mormonism and Early Christianity, with specific attention paid to parallels between the behavior of the ancient Christian church and the modern LDS Church.

    The price one pays for the peership of the world is one’s soul. This is as true of churches as it is for the individuals which comprise them.

    “For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.” (1 Nephi 8:34)

    • I would have to respectfully disagree. One of your main points seems to be perfect adherence to everything prophet Joseph believed personally is required for us to believe to gain salvation. Early in the 20th century, the first presidency gave a response to the main inquiries surrounding the origin of man and the role of evolution. In summary the response said that the church’s mission is to testify of the Gospel of Jesus Christ unto salvation, and they were to leave the various sciences to their respective scientists.

      You’re comments are borderline “infallible Joseph” more than anything. Was he a prophet? Yes. Was he perfect? No. Did he have a perfect understanding of man, the earth, universe and corresponding history? No.

      While the modern church is certainly not perfect, I find it a poor comparison putting the wholesale or partial rejection of essential gospel doctrines (authority of the priesthood, baptisms for the dead, etc.) by the ancient church with the modern church and our tendency to reconcile empirical evidence with church doctrine in non-essential realms such as the age of the Earth, man and the mechanisms of creation.

      You have every right to believe as you do, just as I can believe as I do. And you know what? We can both be good standing, temple worthy members of God’s church.

      To end I will agree with you that it is a far stretch that Joseph “clearly” understood the worlds age as described in the article. I don’t think it’s an obvious conclusion and hasn’t been obvious really until the connection was made in this article. Therefore I also believe Joseph thought the age of the world close to a more “biblical” time frame.

      I apologize in advance for any errors, sometimes auto correct bests me.

    • A fundamental error here is this: by even a strictly literal reading of the bible, the earth is 13 to 14 thousand years old. 7000 years in creation (a day is a thousand years) and the 7000 since Adam.

      More fundamentally- can the time before the fall, when the earth was in its paradisiacal state– is that considered temporal? What about the millennium? From the accounts we have, it almost seems like the second law of thermodynamics is suspended or not applicable. The one about everything tending to a state of disorder.

      I have no conception of how we in a telestial state can comprehend terrestrial state. Let alone celestial stuff. When we look through our telescopes and such, can we see terrestrial or celestial matter? What is the archeological record of matter and life in a terrestrial state? How is such matter viewed from our telestial perspective ? No one knows.

      So I don’t know that it matters much. A period of time in earths history where the second law of thermodynamics is not in effect would play merry havoc with our current science. That said, God chose scientifically illiterate people to give these grand visions to. Even Joseph was far closer to Moses scientifically than to us.

      Besides, as Einstein showed, play with gravity enough in a local spot in the Universe and you can run a billions years off the clock and yet only take a day to do it.

      • I agree with your comments some what. I have maintained for a while now that indeed science is measuring telestial phenomena and the laws that govern them. So all the text books will be thrown out when the millennium arrives. How can modern scientific dogma account for the transition from mortality to a state of immortality “In a twinkling of an eye?” I host of new laws will be taught/discovered in the Earths next phase.

        Further more John Walton posits some good points about the book of genesis. The book was not written for us and wasn’t designed in a way to hold up against scientific tests of today’s era but rather God used terminology our ancient forbears understood well and did not introduce new concepts. How could bedouin sheep herders and the like possibly comprehend times spanning into the billions of years? God used the time scale of “yom” day. That was enough for our Hebrew brethren to comprehend and be content with. No pedantry over definitive time scales that we moderns need.

        God has given us post enlightenment versions of the creation through modern revelation designed for us in our time. The temple lecture and the BOA tells us clearly that it was indefinite time frames involved during the creation of the earth. Do the creative activities of day four require more time to finish than the those of day five? Probably. God raised himself up in 3 days not 1.

        • I must add that I know Jesus Christ is all powerful and if it took the 24hr yom used in genesis then I too am content with this. I trust that all will be revealed and I glory in that day.

      • “I have no conception of how we in a telestial state can comprehend terrestrial state.”

        This. I think you are right on that current science is Telestial science and the different laws of physics/chemistry/etc. apply to Terrestrial and Celestial spheres. I believe that anything our current understanding of science can tell us only applies to the time period from the Fall to the Second Coming.

  10. Good article. I just read a fantastic, thought-provoking book that can fit well (with very little adaptation) with LDS theology and probably should be considered an essential read: “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by John H. Walton.

  11. About eight weeks ago a single mother with a twelve year old son moved in down the road from us. Four weeks ago we saw they needed help so we spent the day helping. They are not LDS and still do not know we are LDS. Where we live is about 45% LDS but the LDS community is not well liked by the rest. Out of the blue the 12 year old asked me if I believe the Earth was created like the Bible says (because he and his mother believe the Bible) and how science is completely wrong. The boy’s mother has a PhD in chemistry! I stammered for a minute, trying to be careful with my answer, but I wanted them to know we believe in the Bible. I am well aware of how LDS are viewed and I still do not know what religion the new neighbors belong to. I have an associate degree in science (working on bachelor’s) and my husband has a masters in biology. My family has no problem with conflict of faith and the sciences/biology etc. Anyway, I said that yes I believe the Bible, but that I also believe man does not really know God’s time line/time table and there is still so much we do not know. The boy seemed sastified with the answer. Whew!
    So I enjoyed this article, and it made sense to me. I do believe the Earth is older than six thousand years, and I do believe in evolution. I also believe Joseph Smith was a true Prophet, and that he knew so many things that he could not share. There is much we do not know and there is much yet to learn. Thank you for this wonderful information!

  12. Interesting article! I agree with what you say. I would add that the order in which the sun and moon then stars appear have less to do with when they are created and more to do with the thinning of the Earth’s primordial atmosphere. In all likelihood, the Earth’s first atmosphere was much thicker and more opaque than it is now. As the sun burned away this early atmosphere, it thinned. To an observer on the ground as it thinned, first the sun, then the moon and finally the stars would appear in the heavens.

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