It's vital that we properly understand what that account does and does not say.
Earlier we examined the weaknesses of the theory of evolution as an explanation for the bewildering complexity of the forms of life we see around us. Now we turn to the Bible itself to see what the Creator God says about His creation.
Adding up the ages of the biblical patriarchs yields a date of about 6,000 years ago for the first human parents, Adam and Eve, formed by God at the end of six days of creation. What, then, are we to make of scientists determining the universe and our planet to be billions of years old? While there may be flaws in dating methods, consider that people often make wrong assumptions about what the Bible says. What does it actually reveal?
Genesis 1 clarified by other passages
Bear in mind that God does not usually explain all there is to know about a subject in one place in the Bible. Even the biblical writers He inspired did not always fully understand what they recorded (compare Daniel 12:8-9; 1 Peter 1:10-12). And He often fills in more details in other passages. So it is with Genesis 1.
Consider, for example, that Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." It might seem as if this verse describes the beginning of everything, but God later reveals details of events and conditions that took place earlier.
The apostle John, writing under God's inspiration, takes us back to a time before events described in Genesis 1. "In the beginning," he states, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made" (John 1:1-3, emphasis added throughout).
Here the Bible reveals that, before the creation of the heavens and the earth described in Genesis 1, the divine Word (the One who became Jesus, verse 14) was with God, and God made everything through Him. None of this is revealed in the Genesis account, yet these details help us understand who God was in the beginning and at the time of the earth's creation. We see that John gives us more information that helps us understand what happened.
Similarly, Genesis 1:2 describes the earth as being "without form, and void." This sketchy description offers no explanation for why the earth was in this condition. However, God reveals more details in other parts of His Word.
Though not mentioned in Genesis, God elsewhere explains that angels were present at the creation of the earth. We find this detail recorded in the book of Job, where God asks Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . Who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted with joy?" (Job 38:4, 6-7). The "morning stars" and "sons of God"—the angels—exulted as they saw the earth miraculously come into being.
The angelic revolt
A key to understanding why the earth was "without form and void" involves what happened to some of these angels. Again, nothing of this angelic story is described in Genesis. But later in His Word, God reveals that there was a great angel, Lucifer, who rebelled against Him: "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High'" (Isaiah 14:12-14).
Here God explains that Lucifer had a throne, representing a position of leadership and authority. He rose from somewhere below to try to overthrow God, but was "cut down to the ground."
Where was this place where Lucifer had his throne? Jesus Christ, whom we earlier saw was the "Word" alongside God at the creation, reveals more details. "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven," He said (Luke 10:18). Lucifer, who became Satan (meaning Adversary) at his rebellion, was cast down from heaven—to the earth!
The Bible explains that Satan retains his authority over this planet. Notice what Satan told Christ: "Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish'" (Luke 4:5-6).
Jesus resisted this temptation but did not dispute the assertion of Satan's present authority, even later calling him "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). He is elsewhere called "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4).
It is no accident that in Genesis 3, shortly after God created Adam and Eve, Satan appeared on the scene as the serpent in the garden. The earth was—and still is—his domain. He had been cast down to the earth before man's creation took place. As noted in the account of the temptation of Christ, Satan had received authority over the earth. He then rebelled against God in a battle in which he was cast down to the earth, as Christ recounted.
The earth is Satan's realm. The book of Job records God asking Satan, "From where do you come?" Satan's reply was, "From going to and fro on the earth and from walking back and forth on it" (Job 1:7).
How the earth became waste and empty
In Genesis we do not see details of the awe-inspiring initial creation, the creation well before Adam and Eve about which angels sang for joy. And we do not read how that creation came to be in chaos—"without form and void."
The text, though, does offer clues. Notice that the New International Version has a marginal notation regarding the translation of Genesis 1:2, set here within brackets: "Now the earth was [or possibly became ] formless and empty . . ."
Does God reveal elsewhere in His Word how the earth came to be in this disorderly state, "formless and empty"? He gives us some telling hints in the book of Isaiah. "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited" (Isaiah 45:18).
The Hebrew term rendered in vain here is from the same word translated "without form" in Genesis 1:2. Yet here Isaiah records God as saying He did not originally create the earth in this condition. Other scriptures, such as Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23, describe similar devastation on the earth using the same words translated "without form, and void" in Genesis 1:2. There is no doubt that these words describe the earth as being empty, void, a wasteland.
The Genesis account simply does not provide all the details. But the Bible as a whole fills in other parts of the story. The missing pieces are given in other scriptures, which tell us of Satan's rebellion against God. They describe his attempt to overthrow God and that as a result of a great supernatural battle, he was cast back down.
We see what appears to be a parallel situation in Revelation 12:7-9, which describes an attempt by Satan to overthrow God shortly before Christ's return: "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
Yet God has allowed Satan to retain authority over this present world. Satan even offered Jesus the opportunity to share rulership over the earth under him.
You can see that, when we examine the whole of Scripture, we find a great deal more information that illuminates and explains the Genesis account.
Earth renewed and restored
Consider another section of Scripture in which God inspired a psalm revealing more about His creation. "O Lord," the psalmist writes, "how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions . . . You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth" (Psalm 104:24, 30).
The surface of the earth needed a renewal when God created the present life-forms we see around us. So what does the fossil record depict? It shows a series of fossilized life-forms in layered deposits scattered in the earth's crust. Man as we know him, made in God's image with enormous creative and spiritual abilities, has left written records that take us back a little more than 5,000 years.
This is a tiny span compared with what most scientists consider the age of the earth and stars to be based on their research. Man, in an incredibly short time, built the pyramids—which to this day defy imitation. Man has traveled to the moon and sent spacecraft to explore our solar system and beyond. Such achievements show the enormous difference in the earth before and after Adam.
How long did the angels exist before man was created? The Bible doesn't reveal the answer. How long did it take Lucifer to persuade as many as a third of the angels to rebel with him? (compare Revelation 12:4). Remember, angels are spirit beings for whom aging is of no consequence (Luke 20:36). Whatever length of time this might be, perhaps millions or billions of years, the angels were created and lived before the creation of Adam and Eve and the days of the renewal of the earth described in Genesis.
It does seem that Satan's rebellion happened after the earth had passed through the dinosaur age. Then, geologists agree, something dramatic occurred between the age of reptiles and the age of mammals.
As the famous paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson once remarked: "The most puzzling event in the history of life on the earth is the change from the Mesozoic Age of Reptiles, to the . . . Age of Mammals. It is as if the curtain were rung down suddenly on a stage where all the leading roles were taken by reptiles, especially dinosaurs, in great numbers and bewildering variety, and rose again immediately to reveal the same setting but an entirely new cast, a cast in which the dinosaurs do not appear at all, other reptiles are supernumeraries and the leading parts are all played by mammals of sorts barely hinted at in the previous acts" (Life Before Man, 1972, p. 42).
This apparently reflects the change from the pre-Adamic world to the world of man. Certainly there are smaller reptiles in our world, but they are insignificant in comparison to those that existed in the previous age.
This is not the only "ancient earth" explanation available, but it seems to make the most biblical sense. It accepts the literal 24-hour days of the creation (or re-creation) week and, at the same time, allows room for an indefinite period before the creation of mankind that could include the dinosaurs and previous eras.
To better comprehend the biblical explanation of an initial creation followed by destruction and a later re-creation, be sure to read the chapters that follow titled: "Earth's Age: Does the Bible Indicate a Time Interval Between the First and Second Verses of Genesis?" and "Genesis 1 and the Days of Creation".
The Bible explanation
Can the Bible explain the fossil record, evidence pointing to an ancient earth and divine creation at the same time? Yes, it can. We don't know the details of what happened before man's time. But Jesus Christ has assured us that when He returns "there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light" (Mark 4:22).
Instead of wandering through the chaotic, confused maze of the theory of evolution, we should look to God's Word for assurance. It is there—directly from our Creator—that we find the truth of man's origin.
Perhaps the following quote from noted writer George Sim Johnston best sums up that truth: "The book of Genesis has held up well under the scrutiny of modern geology and archaeology. Twentieth-century physics, moreover, describes the beginning of the universe in virtually the same cosmological terms as Genesis. Space, time and matter came out of nothing in a single burst of light entirely hospitable to carbon-based life. A growing number of chemists and biologists agree that life had its origin from clay templates (see Genesis 2:7) . . . I would say all this is a curious development for Darwinists" (Reader's Digest, May 1991, p. 31).
But these things aren't a "curious development" to those who faithfully believe, as Christ did, in "every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). They know that such truths have been recorded for mankind in the Bible for thousands of years.
It is to the Bible that we should turn for our moral standards, to discover our one true source of salvation and, perhaps most of all, for our belief in the invisible Creator God. Then we should not doubt the real origin of species mentioned in the creation epic, that rock-solid book of beginnings, Genesis.
Does it really matter what you believe?
We've seen the untold story of evolution: how evolution's supporting pillars—the fossil record, natural selection and random mutation—fail to support the theory at all. We've seen that evolution cannot explain many of the facts we see in the world around us. We've seen that the book of Genesis doesn't conflict with science and that, when we consider the evidence, it actually offers an explanation far more sound than Darwinian theory.
So where do you go from here? The choice is yours as to how you view the evidence.
You can choose to hold to the view that there is no Creator and that we are simply the result of blind chance, a series of lucky accidents. You can decide for yourself how you should live and what values and principles will determine how you treat others. You can believe that man created God rather than the other way around. As Paul pointed out almost 2,000 years ago, many people are quite content to find ways to reason around the evidence of a Creator (Romans 1:20-32).
On the other hand, you can accept the evidence that there is a Creator who cares about you in ways you can't even imagine.
Some 3,000 years ago King David recorded his thoughts upon gazing at the magnificent night sky. He prayed to God, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV).
David understood that a Being capable of creating such perfection and splendor must have a great plan and a purpose for us. And indeed He does. God wants to reveal that purpose to you, to show you the way out of the pain and sorrow we have brought on ourselves from rejecting His ways. He offers this incredible invitation: "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3).
We've summarized some of these "great and mighty things" in our free booklet Why Were You Born? It will show you from the Scriptures the future God has planned for those willing to believe Him and accept His invitation. It's a future far beyond the meaningless and purposeless moral, emotional and spiritual vacuum offered by evolution.
"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses," He tells us. "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19, NRSV).
The choice is yours.