If the Sun Wasn’t Created Until Day 4, How Did Life Exist Before Then?

QUESTION: Regarding the Old Earth Creationism theory, if the sun wasn’t created until Day 4, how did life exist b4 then?

RESPONSE: Thanks for your question on Old Earth Creationism.

Of course the first thing to note, is that the problem of the sequence of the sun’s creation is a problem for every view of Genesis 1, not merely for old earth views. So if we must accept the days of creation as literally 24 hour solar days, with evenings and mornings, then the fact that we have 3 such Solar days without a “Sol” is a problem for the young earth view. As the Church Father Origen noted in the 2nd century:

For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? …I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.

Origen “On First Principles”

Some in both old earth and young earth camps maintain that the sun was in place and necessary for life to be created, but was simply not seen until day 4. So from the perspective of an observer on earth, it is only on day 4 that the sun, moon and stars were made to appear. However, the text says that “God made the two great lights… to separate light from darkness” on the 4th day, making the idea that the Sun was there, but not apparent, hard to reconcile with the text.

Thus, the timing of the sun’s creation on day 4 presents deep problems for any view that requires that we view the text literally. Young Earth Creationism does not escape this problem in the sequence of creation events. Imagining that the living things made on day 3 could survive without sunlight for 24 hours seems very ad hoc to me. This is to say nothing of the other problems that arise with Young Earth Creationism, like the requirement to believe there was no death at all before the sin of Adam and Eve. It’s now well known that myriad types of microbes which are necessary for any life, have life cycles of much less than a day. This makes the creation of the first living things on day 3 without any death difficult to maintain on the literal view.

Further, the first agrarian readers of Genesis 1 would surely note that, “the earth bringing forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it,” requires much more than a day. To imagine God doing this in a normal day, we have to presume God made the world with the appearance of age, and this is the fatal flaw of the Young Earth view, in my opinion. Any view that requires us to ignore the straightforward, common sense view of things, calls into question our reason. Tertullian maintained, “reason is a thing of God.” If Christians don’t want the artificial war between faith and science to continue, we need to not posit special escape hatches from the plain readings of nature every time they seem to conflict with a Biblical statement. Speaking of which, the Scriptures themselves tell us God’s glory and character and knowledge are written into nature (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20). So, do the heavens declare the glory of God, or a fiction of God?

Turning then to old earth views, there are a host of these, and they treat the text very differently. The one thing they have in common is that they are not bound to strict, 24 hour, normal days, in their view of Genesis 1. As you can see with Origen, this is not necessarily a capitulation to modern science. There are good reasons and clues in the text of Genesis 1 to see it non-literally.

So, while expanding the nature of what is meant by “day”, one Old Earth view, “Day Age” tries to maintain a literal sequence of days, while saying the days themselves are non-literal. In this view, the days relate to creative epochs or periods of infusion of new life or life forms, followed by long periods of stasis. The problem with this view is that the days do not follow natural history nicely, as you note in your question, since living things show up before the sun. This reveals a problem for all ‘concordance’ views – views of Scripture that try to see how it “concords” (harmonizes) with modern science. Any view built around strict harmonization stumbles when the science it was trying to build around changes, when new facts arise or when study reveals the text conforms better to ancient science than modern.

An old earth view I find more compelling is called the “Framework View”. This looks at Genesis 1 in logical order rather than chronological order. In its favor is that it relies on viewing the text through the lens of Hebrew Parallelism ) which is a distinct feature of Old Testament writings everywhere else. In this view, days 1–3 form a triad that parallels the triad formed by days 4–6. When this is first suggested to people, it is often eye popping. Think about it: the first three days are all connected as the making of forms or “creation containers”. Then the second three days fill those containers.

This is significant because verse 1 introduces us to the 2 things God specifically does not create: formlessness and emptiness: “the earth was formless and empty” Genesis 1:2. So form and structure are given in days 1 through 3 to what was initially formless. And when you turn to the second set of days, days 4 through 6 concern the filling of the newly created but empty forms.

  • Light and space are created on day 1, and day 4 is the creation of what carries light and fills space: the sun, moon, and stars.
  • The sky and seas are made on day 2, and on day 5 the sea is filled with sea creatures and the sky is filled with winged creatures.
  • Dry land is made on day 3, and on day 6, the land is filled with land creatures, culminating with man.

To be fair, the parallelism is not perfect. The sun, moon and stars, for example, made on the 4th day are placed in the sky, but the sky is first mentioned on the second day. If the first and fourth days were completely parallel, we should expect the sky to be mentioned on the first day. Also, the sea creatures of day 5 should be placed in the seas which are mentioned on day 3, not day 2. (However, the “water belowis mentioned on day 2, and the focus of Day 3 is NOT the sea, but the creation of land out of the sea). Despite these problems the parallelism is remarkable and, as I already noted, writing in parallel forms is a known Hebrew style.

Further, this view could be seen as roughly sequential, following generally what we know about natural history (therefore “concordant” in some sense). Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 do not fit, but if the sequence is rather day 1/4, followed by day 2/5 and culminating in 3/6 it does roughly conform to what science tells us about the sequence of life’s emergence.

However, this view is first and foremost a literary framework, not a scientific one. Therefore, the sequence of the Sun after the creation of first life on day 3 is not really a problem on this view, because we are no longer bound to think the author is trying to give us a video reporting of creation events, but rather a theological report. Which allows us to follow the natural evidence about creation, wherever it leads.

Regarding the theological point, the author has given us at least two earth-shattering ideas that just happen to harmonize with modern science (in sequence) but much more importantly set the Hebrew’s God apart from all the other deities of the Ancient Near East. Those two ideas continue to have enduring relevance for the cogency and uniqueness of a Christian, Theistic view of the world today:

  1. The universe is not past eternal, but came into being at a finite point, as God preceded the making of the “heavens and the earth” – not the other way around. Mind came before Matter. God came before the universe – in direct contradiction to atheism and it’s dearly held view of an eternal, “steady state” universe, and also ancient polytheism which said the gods emerged from primordial forces or matter.
  2. The stars, the heavenly bodies, worshiped everywhere else as gods, are not rival gods at all. They are merely the creations and playthings of Yahweh. They are made for his glory, and for the benefit of man, who was himself made in God’s image. They barely get a footnote in the creation account. The demystifying of creation by this cannot be overstated, as it would not only allow the Hebrews to reject superstition, it eventually would give the Judeo-Christian tradition the worldview framework to one day invent science, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (Kepler) as we learn to understand God better by understanding better what God has made.

Resource: 7 Days That Divide The World, John Lennox