We believers, like everyone else, are lost when it comes to the origins of the universe. We know stuff exists, but we have no clue how that’s possible. Something can’t come from nothing, right? Yes, we believe in a creator, but we can’t grasp how he apparently had no beginning. Of course, the Big Bang-ers have a problem, too. They have not the slightest idea where the fundamental particles necessary for an explosion came from.
None of this precludes us from believing that God created (or organized) the earth and that Adam and Eve were our first parents. After all, we surely descended from someone, and science tells us that matter existed long before the earth came into existence.
But we don’t know how the earth was created. Once we go beyond “God created the earth,” we find ourselves on shaky ground. Certain details of the Creation story, the Flood story and other biblical episodes are about as credible as saying that Santa guided his sleigh using Rudolph’s red nose. (Does anyone really believe that a single red nose would provide sufficient illumination at night for that fast-moving sleigh? On the other hand, if that red nose had GPS qualities . . . )
We Latter-day Saints have four versions of the Creation story—Genesis, Moses, Abraham and the temple presentation. Virtually hidden in the Scriptures is a fifth version, mentioned later in this essay.
Many Christians believe that the Genesis story of Creation is literal. The Creation Museum in Kentucky teaches that the earth is 6,000 years old, that each of the six days of creation lasted 24 hours and that Adam and Eve were contemporaries with dinosaurs. According to actual rumors, museum directors consider videos of “The Flintstones” to be documentaries.
The LDS interpretation of the earth’s creation is slightly more realistic. We say that the “days” of creation were likely extended creative periods. Few Mormons today accept a 6,000-year lifespan for the earth. And church leaders have described the Creation story as allegorical while affirming the existence of Adam and Eve. (Note: Many LDS leaders taught in the early decades of the church that the earth was created 6,000 to 7,000 years ago and that there was no death on the planet until after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit. Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 puts the “temporal existence” of the earth at 7,000 years.)
“The most correct book on earth,” the Book of Mormon, may provide the most correct scriptural version—it basically says Christ created heaven and earth, and leaves it at that. In the Book of Mormon, at least we don’t read about Eve coming from Adam’s rib or about grasses and herbs flourishing without sunlight (grasses and herbs were made on Day 3; the sun on Day 4) or that the earth was created before the sun and stars, etc.
I believe that writers of the Creation stories prayerfully produced narratives of the earth’s creation that they thought were inspired accounts of what happened and that would be helpful for believers wanting insight on the subject. Some parts of their narrative, such as the following passage in Genesis and Moses, have a credible ring: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” That sounds like organic evolution.
The Doctrine and Covenants, Old Testament and Book of Mormon contain verses that suggest a fifth approach—instant creation. Although I’m not advocating the Big Bang theory, we must admit that the following scriptures at least suggest that the Creation—whether of the universe or the earth—might have occurred quickly.
“I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me.” --D&C 38:3
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” --Psalms 33:6
“Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.” --Psalms 148:5
“Wherefore, if God being able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created, O then, why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure.” --Jacob 4:9
Science has been helpful over the centuries in bringing us closer to truth. It may yet offer answers on how the universe came into existence. In the meantime, we believers are well advised to focus more on the why of creation than the how.