The Creation Account vs Science: Do They Agree?

Does the creation account in the scriptures match how scientists say the earth and its life came to be?

Yes. But only if you use the Book of Abraham. (1)

The Book of Abraham is scripture that was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith, and was published in 1842. Latter-day Saints believe it is a book inspired by God. The Book of Abraham has a creation story that is similar to the one found in Genesis, except that it has a bunch of little word changes that we need to discuss. And oh, are we going to discuss them–because although these differences in verbage appear small and insignificant, they couldn’t be more important. They are exactly what we need in our day and age to accept the story of the natural history of our planet given to us by science. In other words, it’s these subtle word changes that make the creation account in Abraham comply with modern science. In a world where many scientists mock religion, and many believers in God deny science, the Book of Abraham can bring both sides together in one. We need that. (2)

So how does it do this? Some of these subtle word changes in Abraham include describing a creation of various species as a consequence of a series of changes in the earth (like the theory of natural selection describes); fixing any apparent anachronisms in Genesis 1 (such as plants appearing before the Sun is created); and substituting all special creation language for that of a creation done by the earth (i.e. replacing “God made” certain things with the Gods “organized” or “prepared the earth to bring forth” certain things). And that’s not all…

Another important way in which the Book of Abraham creation account differs from Genesis is that it doesn’t call the Days of creation “days”, but “times”–times of unspecified, unknown, and nonuniform duration. So as we go through the creation Days, think of them as periods of creation, not literal 24-hour days or even 1,000-year days (see Facsimile 2, Fig. 1). The earth is very old, and the universe is a lot older than that. By taking away a specific unit of time while discussing the creation intervals, Abraham allows for the earth, universe, and all life therein to be much older than 6,000 years, thus complying with the requirements of science. That being said, just to make things confusing, we’ll still refer to each time period in this post as a “Day” of creation, as Genesis does–for comparison purposes. (3)

And so here we go! We will run through each Day of creation, comparing the text of Abraham 4 to what science says happened. Pay attention to how Abraham differs from Genesis, and how these little alterations allow Abraham to match with science where Genesis fails. It’s pretty darn amazing. As you do this, you can use a verse-by-verse comparison of Genesis 1, Moses 2, and Abraham 4 here, which will help a lot. Hopefully we’ll all see that the creation account given to us in 1842 on the pages of the Book of Abraham is strikingly accurate when compared to our current understanding of natural history and the way things on our beautiful planet home came to be. (4)

You ready for this?


Day 0 (Abraham 3)

The Premortal Life and Organization of Intelligences

The Council in Heaven. [5]

Eternity/Timelessness?

Before the world exists, there are individual and eternal beings called “intelligences” which live in the presence of God. These intelligences are organized on a spectrum, for no two are identical, and there is always one more intelligent than the other. Each one needs a body, so God makes plans to make an earth as a place for them to live. 

Chimpanzee using a tool to eat food. [6]

There is a group of noble and great intelligences that the Lord decides to make his rulers. One of these, who is like God, is chosen to be the Savior of all living things, so that they may return to God’s presence.

Genesis does not provide an explanation of what happened before the creation, and why the earth and all life exists. Abraham does.

We all lived with God as intelligences before the world was made (Abraham 3:21-23). Chapter 3 reveals the fact that the earth was made as a place fit for life where all the intelligences could live and be tested (Abraham 3:24-26). Did plants and non-human animals live with God as intelligences also? And is that why this planet exists–so we all could receive bodies and be tested? (See Organization of Intelligences: The Why of Evolution)

We also learn that the intelligences exist on a spectrum, from less intelligent to “more intelligent” (Abraham 3:18-19). Is this why all living things were produced over hundreds of millions of years by a process of gradual evolution–to provide a spectrum of habitable bodies and forms suitable for a spectrum of spirits?

The “noble and great ones” stood out among all the other intelligences and were to become God’s “rulers” (Abraham 3:23). Were these the intelligences who would be given rule or “dominion” over the earth (see Abraham 4:26-28)? Are these all those who were to become humans on this planet?

Also, note that God’s plan is to make an earth out of existing materials (see Abraham 3:24). This is significant, as the account in Genesis has led many to believe that the heavens and the earth were created out of nothing, or ex nihilo, in a supernatural, magical fashion. (7)


Day 1 (Abraham 4:1-5)

The Big Bang, Sun, Earth, and Moon

The formation of the Moon. [8]

13.8-4.7 billion years ago

All the time, space, energy, and matter in the entire universe is contained inside a single point, which begins to expand. Atoms form, then stars, then more stars, then planets, all being organized from simple, once-chaotic materials. (9)

4.6-4.5 billion years ago

The Sun forms, followed shortly by the proto-earth. Another protoplanet named Theia collides with the proto-earth, adding mass to complete the formation of the planet Earth and creating debris to form the Moon. Having recently been pummeled—perhaps even vaporized—during the Moon formation, Earth’s surface is empty, with a flowing, magma surface, so nothing else is able to form. The planet is desolate, with no life, and everything’s shrouded in darkness due to a cloud of vaporized rock obscuring the young Sun. Once this vapor rock cools and condenses, it falls back to the rotating earth and Moon, allowing the bright light from the Sun to shine on an already-rotating earth, thus causing day to be divided from night. (10)

The cosmic microwave background radiation is evidence of and “leftover heat” from the Big Bang. [11]

Despite the liquefaction/vaporization of Earth as a result of the Moon formation, much of its water reserves survive the Theia impact (which also brings a lot of water with it), implying that something favorable is protecting or brooding over the waters. Also, incoming comets and asteroids continue to bring more water to the earth. This water will soon be essential for the origination of life. (12)

Before the Theia collision, the proto-earth had much less mass than it does now, therefore Earth’s creation as the official planet that we know (as far as mass goes) was not until the Moon formed. Once the vapor cleared from that collision, the Sun could shine on a fully-formed earth and Moon, making it possible for one to call the light “Day” and the darkness “Night” for the first time. (13)

Although there may not have been liquid oceans of water on Earth during this time, there was very likely water of some form present in the original proto-earth material, in Theia, and in the asteroids and comets that frequently pelted the earth in the early days of the solar system. Abraham 4:2 never says that “the waters” were in the liquid phase, allowing for any water mentioned in this verse to exist in the vapor phase or locked in rocks.


Day 2 (Abraham 4:6-8)

The Atmosphere

Diagram showing how gases from volcanoes made the atmosphere and the oceans. [14]

4.5-4.4 billion years ago

The earth’s crust hardens. Volcanoes spew out toxic gases and water vapor that become the atmosphere, which expands and stretches over the Earth. Temperatures cool enough for this water to condense into rain and cover the planet with a liquid surface ocean. The atmosphere serves as a physical barrier to literally separate or divide the water on Earth, under the atmosphere, from the water in the rest of the universe, above the atmosphere. (15)

Earth’s atmosphere from space. [16]

The word “firmament” implies a hard dome structure. Indeed, the writers of Genesis likely believed the sky was a solid bowl above a flat Earth. Using the word “expanse” instead removes that flat-Earth connotation. “Expanse” etymologically denotes something that “expands”, “spreads out”, or “stretches” over a large area–such as an expanding, gaseous atmosphere that covers the entire planet. (17)

Water is a surprisingly abundant molecule throughout the universe, and can be found on many other worlds in our solar system and beyond. Since there is water on the earth too, the atmosphere really does divide the waters above (in space) from the waters below (on Earth). In fact, the pressure from the atmosphere actually keeps Earth’s water liquid and out of the vacuum of space. Therefore, it is fitting that the expanse is mentioned in connection with water. (18)

In Abraham 4:7, the Gods “ordered the expanse, so that it divided the waters” under the expanse from those above it. The word “ordered” here could be a verb synonymous with “arranged”, rather than a synonym of “commanded”. If so, then the Gods may have arranged “the expanse” in a way “so that” it divided the waters–perhaps by introducing cooler temperatures and enough atmospheric pressure to allow liquid water to exist on Earth. Note that the language in Genesis 1:7 indicates that God “made the firmament, and divided the waters”, whereas Abraham 4:7 implies that a command or arrangement of the expanse was instituted “so that” a division of the waters would occur. This cause and effect scenario, of course, better aligns with science than a supernatural creation of an atmosphere. (19)  


Day 3 (Abraham 4:9-13)

Land and Plants

“The Archean Eon” by Andrey Atuchin. [20]

4.4-4 billion years ago

The first land masses are volcanoes poking up through the ocean surface. Soon, granite, which is less dense than basalt, forms up from the mantle and floats on top of it. These granite masses will one day become the continents of the world. As these new, solid, dry, exposed land masses begin eroding due to rain, they pump the oceans with nutrients and begin the formation of soils, preparing the world for the vascular plants that are to come much later. (21)

Photosynthesizing cyanobacteria formed structures like these stromatolites, billions of years ago. [22]

4-3.7 billion years ago

The earliest microorganisms begin to appear, likely around underwater hydrothermal vents. A group of their descendants, cyanobacteria, will soon evolve and start cleaning out the toxic atmosphere with photosynthesis, turning sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into oxygen. These little guys will be the ancestors of all plants that are to come. (23)

Although not Pangaea, the first land to appear would have been the only land for a time, and thus all the water would have been “gathered together unto one place”–if that’s a requirement. The supercontinent Pangaea will not assemble until around 300 Ma. (24)

Abraham 4:11-12 does not say that these plants are being created during this Day, only that the earth is being prepared to bring them forth at a later time. Notice how Genesis 1:12 indicates that “the earth brought forth” plants before Day 4, whereas Abraham 4:12 wisely states that during Day 3 the earth was only “organized” to do so. The weathering of rocks on land spread the nutrients required for life, including for the early plant progenitors. This also distributed the ingredients for soils to form–soils in which the earliest land plants would one day live. [25]

The first lifeforms were the ancestors of the cyanobacteria, which were ancestors of all plants alive today. Thus, the earth was being “prepared” and “organized” to bring forth the plants. Grass doesn’t appear until 120-66 Ma, seed plants until 400 Ma, and fruit plants don’t show up until 180-140 Ma, but their ancestors were already using photosynthesis to survive and reproduce billions of years ago. (26)


Day 4 (Abraham 4:14-19)

Organization of the Sun, Moon, and Stars

The Moon. [27]

3.5-2 billion years ago

Cyanobacteria begin to recognize the Sun’s light and use it for food. The earth’s sky is dominated by periodic methane hazes lasting millions of years, which finally cease forever when the cyanobacteria succeed in filling the atmosphere with oxygen. This allows the Sun, Moon, and stars to shine on Earth’s life forms uninhibited. Biological rhythms corresponding with the Sun and Moon evolve in organisms shortly thereafter. As the Milky Way Galaxy merges with another galaxy, it sparks an unusually high rate of star formation. Earth-Moon resonance stops Earth’s day length from increasing, keeping it at around 21 hours. (28)

Chart showing the high star formation rate in our galaxy around 2 billion years ago (Gyr). [29]

2 billion-600 million years ago

From all the new oxygen in the atmosphere, the ozone layer forms, turning the Sun from a deadly UV radiation weapon into a friendlier source of energy, allowing complex multicellular life to start evolving. The long-held Earth-Moon resonance is broken and Earth’s days start getting longer. Full-on eyes have not evolved yet, but their precursors, light-sensitive cell patches, probably develop around this time, allowing the ancestors of animals to see the light of the Sun and Moon. (30)

Abraham 4:14-19 does not say that the Gods created the Sun, Moon, or stars during this Day, but rather that they “organized them to be for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years,” and “for lights”; and that they “set them in the expanse of the heavens [or the sky], to give light upon the earth.” Note how Genesis 1:16 says “God made two great lights”, while Abraham 4:16 says “the Gods organized the two great lights,” further validating that the Sun and Moon were not made during Day 4, but earlier. “The sky” is a relative term–what you see being different from what someone else might see, depending on their location and conditions of visibility. With these things considered, remember that when discussing the Gods organizing and setting the Sun, Moon, and stars in the sky, they are doing so only from a certain viewpoint. From the location of another observer removed from Earth’s surface, those objects were already there, and had been for some time. (31) 

During this time, the sky from the point of view of Earth was undergoing significant changes. The length of a day on Earth stopped increasing (as it had been since the formation of the Moon), stayed pretty much the same (at around 21 hours per day) for over a billion years, then began increasing again to our current 24 hours per day. This helped “set” how fast the Sun, Moon, and stars travelled across our planet’s sky. The Moon was also undergoing changes, and can only now make the staggering “sign” of a ring of fire during a total solar eclipse because it’s been slowly inching away from the earth and is presently at the correct distance (and relative size from Earth) to do so (Abraham 4:14). (32)  

During this time, a large number of stars that may have been or are now visible from Earth were born, therefore many stars were being “set” in the heavens. Organisms began using the Sun to make food and oxygen, and could now recognize the difference between “day” and “night,” thus “causing” the “division” of “the light from the darkness” to be comprehended (Abraham 4:16-17). Skies became clearer as methane hazes disappeared, and ancestral eyes began to evolve so living things could actually begin to see the celestial objects given “for lights” moving above (Abraham 4:14-15). Biological clocks connected to the Sun and moon first appeared here as well. These clocks, or rhythms, regulate the “daily” functions of our own cells and bodies today (see Abraham 4:14). The influx of oxygen from photosynthesis led to the formation of the atmospheric ozone layer, which protected life from harmful UV radiation, and essentially “organized” the Sun to be a source of “light” rather than death (Abraham 4:16-17). This relative repurposing of our host star eventually allowed life to move onto land, where its descendants could then bask in the sunlight and look up to the stars.

Also, keep in mind that stars are always moving relative to each other, and our solar system travels all the way around the galaxy once every 250 million years. The constellations we see today are ”signs” to us and help us keep track of the “seasons” (think astrology) (Abraham 4:14). The way the stars in the constellations are arranged today was not the way they were arranged 2 billion years ago (assuming these stars had even been born yet). During the time period we assigned to Day 4, these stars were in the paths of motion that would eventually lead them to where they are now. (33)

Although the Sun, Moon, and stars were formed billions of years earlier, a lot of events were happening during this Day to organize these lights in new ways to the point of view of the planet and its living things, eventually serving for all of us as lights, signs, seasons, days, and years (see Abraham 4:14-15). And amazingly, all that these heavenly bodies were doing was obeying the laws of physics: “And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (Abraham 4:18).


Day 5 (Abraham 4:20-23)

Birds and Whales

“Archaeopteryx: Perched”, by EWilloughby. This possible bird ancestor is also about to eat what looks like a possible whale ancestor. [34]

600-450 million years ago

Snowball Earths pour oxygen and nutrients into the seas, allowing for a sudden and abundant increase in diverse animal forms in the ocean called the Cambrian Explosion. It’s during this time that the first creatures that move appear, followed by the first animals with backbones, the vertebrates. (35)

400-200 million years ago

Some early fish-like tetrapods make it from the water onto the land, likely to survive a bought of intense droughts, and also to escape predators, high salinity, and low oxygen in their aquatic habitats. Because Pangaea is huge and water can’t make it to the middle, some of their descendants develop the ability to lay hard-shelled eggs on land, separating themselves further from the water. These are called amniotes. One group of amniotes gives rise to the dinosaurs, whose common ancestor likely sports feathers of some sort. Another group of amniotes gives rise to the early mammals. Acidic rains, poisoned oceans, a 2-million-year period of downpours and flooding, followed by rising sea levels and more acidic oceans combine to allow the dinosaurs to rise to power and thrive. (36) 

Fishy creatures like Tiktaalik pioneered the transition of vertebrates from the water to the land, becoming the ancestors of all tetrapods. [37] 

200-150 million years ago

The splitting of Pangaea to form the Atlantic ocean causes an increase in atmospheric oxygen levels, which allows placental mammals to evolve. One group of dinosaurs in the theropod lineage develops feathered flight, and begins to radiate in abundance. These are the first birds. (38)

100-85 million years ago

The shifting of continents through plate tectonics prepares the waters for the future evolution of whales–a group of placental mammals. The Indian subcontinent separates from Madagascar and heads for Asia, later becoming the place where early land-based whale ancestors will first begin spending time in the water. A shallow sea over northern Africa appears, to later become a place where some of the early fully-aquatic whales will evolve. Some types of marine reptiles, who dominate the ocean, begin to disappear and go extinct, leaving niches open in the oceans that whales will fill in the future. Australia begins to split from Antarctica, creating space around the polar continent for later ocean currents that will play a large role in the emergence of the great baleen whales. (39) 

66 million years ago

Major volcanic activity, coupled with a devastating asteroid impact wipes out a large percentage of animal life, including the remaining marine reptiles, pterosaurs, and all of the dinosaurs except for a few groups of birds. With pterosaurs and most bird groups gone, this allows the surviving birds to take over the skies, multiply, and reach their modern varieties. With the long-dominant dinosaurs missing from the land, and the oceans void of marine reptiles, mammals are free to diversify and eventually will make it into the sea as whales. (40)

All life forms have an ancestry that began in the water. Although birds aren’t born in the water, their distant, pre-amniote ancestors were. Environmental factors in the water (predation, droughts, salt, oxygen, etc.) drove them out of the water to begin successful lives on dry land, and eventually put their descendants into the skies, “above the earth.” The evolution of birds was dependent on the arid conditions of Pangaea, the acidic rains and oceans of the End-Permian Extinction, the floods of the Carnian Pluvial Event, and the rising sea levels and acidic oceans of the End-Triassic Extinction. Indeed, “the waters” were being “prepared” to bring forth the birds, just like Abraham says. (41)

The same ancestors of birds that transitioned from water onto land and from amphibian-like to amniote were also the ancestors of whales. Abraham 4:20-23 does not say that whales are appearing during this Day, but rather that the waters are being prepared to bring them forth at a later time: “the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth” (Abraham 4:21). Note how this keeps it in the future tense, with preparations of the waters now, but allowing for the whales to show up later. Crucial continental movements which would go on to create certain freshwater locations, oceans, seas, and ocean currents; coupled with some fortuitous mass extinctions that eliminated ichthyosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs, occurred during this time to prepare the waters for the coming emergence of whales. Note how Genesis 1:21 says “God created” the whales and other creatures, whereas Abraham 1:21 says that “the Gods prepared the waters” to bring those things forth. This word change is consistent with natural selection. (42)

The first “moving creatures” appear around 565 Ma, the first birds appear around 160 Ma, and the first fully-aquatic whales appear around 41 Ma. These verses mention all three things in proper chronological order. Note how Abraham 4:22 adds the word “cause” to the idea conveyed in Genesis 1:22, thus affirming that it is environmental conditions that cause or naturally select certain species to survive and “multiply,” and not merely a verbal command from Deity. The asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous–among many other factors–definitely caused the ancestors of modern birds and whales to fill niches, diversify, and multiply. (43)


Day 6 (Abraham 4:24-31)

Cattle and Humans

Artistic depiction of “Homo Habilis Hunting” what looks like a gazelle–a type of bovid. [44]

66-55 million years ago

The extinction that killed the dinosaurs allows the mammals to thrive and fill the niches on the earth that dinosaurs used to fill. The lineages that will eventually produce cattle and other even-toed ungulates, as well as early primates, appear a few million years after the extinction, following a dramatic global temperature spike. Filling the niche of fine-branch fruit-eater causes these primates to develop grasping hands and color vision. Other “beasts”, mammal or not, begin diversifying. (45)

50-10 million years ago

As India slowly crashes into Asia due to plate tectonics, the Himalayas form, making Earth’s climate dryer and cooler. Grasses begin to dominate the landscape because of this, providing important food for ruminants. The first bovids appear, and then are split into two groups due to a temporary separation of the African and Eurasian continents. One of these groups is the bovines. The bovines diversify and are successful due to an increase in grasslands. During this time, the first apes also appear in Asia. As sea level drops, a pathway between Africa and Eurasia opens again, allowing some apes to venture into Africa. A giant magma plume underneath East Africa begins splitting the land apart, altering the terrain and climate, and creating the Great Rift Valley, where human ancestors will soon evolve in response. (46) 

8-2.5 million years ago

Some groups of tree-dwelling apes develop bipedalism for better movement in the canopy. The ancestors of humans split from the ancestors of chimps. The supernovae of some nearby stars cause a high rate of lightning strikes, which causes more grasslands to develop as forests take fire and become patchy. Bipedalism causes our ancestors to better survive as the spaces between these wooded areas grow larger, offering many advantages over quadrupedalism–including a forthcoming long-distance running ability. Walking on two legs also frees up their hands for tool use. Tool use eventually allows them to eat more meat, which causes their brain size to increase over time. These new, open grasslands also facilitate the evolution of large bovines called aurochs. (47)

Lucy, a fossilized australopithecine and possible human ancestor who died around 3.18 Ma. [48]

2.1 million – 12,000 years ago

Homo habilis appears, the first of the bipedal apes to be categorized in the genus Homo, or in other words, the first “humans”. The dry climate facilitates an increase in wildfires, which causes humans to learn to harness fire for their own uses. While giving humans an advantage over other animals, fire also allows them to cook and eat more calories and grow their brains even larger. A group of humans called Homo erectus gives rise to various other human species, one of which, Homo sapiens, appears in Africa around 300,000 years ago. Although there are more than one species of human, all of them die out except for Homo sapiens, causing their descendants, modern humans, to eventually have dominion and take over the earth. (49)

12,000-0 years ago 

Humans begin domesticating plants and animals for food, including the mighty aurochs, whose descendants will become known as cattle. Agriculture helps humans to ditch their nomadic lifestyle and live in established communities, then civilizations. Innovation, imagination, and high intelligence cause them to take over the world and every other living thing. (50)

Asteroids, volcanoes, global warming, rising and falling sea level, moving continents, global cooling, and a whole lot of grasslands combine to prepare the earth to bring forth the ancestors of cattle. The stories of cattle and humans are inseparably intertwined, so it is proper that they are both introduced in the same Day of creation. No other animals are mentioned by name during this Day, but all of the large mammal groups alive today owe their success to that asteroid which killed off the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous. Other groups, including reptiles, also diversified after this event. Therefore, the earth was being prepared “to bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth.” (Abraham 4:24)(51)

The first bovines appear around 18 Ma, and the first humans (the genus Homo) around 2.1 Ma. Fully-aquatic whales appear earlier than both groups, thus complying with the scriptures which mentions whales before cattle or humans. (52)

The Gods say they ”will cause [humans] to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and to have dominion over … every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” They are not just giving them dominion, but are doing things that cause them to have dominion eventually–including climate change, plate tectonics, magma plumes, supernovae, lightning strikes, etc. The story of human evolution outlines the steps and changes in the earth that “caused” humans to develop bipedalism, tool use, large brains, and agriculture, and eventually to take over the world, thus complying with scripture.


Conclusion

There you go. The story that science gives us fits perfectly with the creation story in the Book of Abraham. All because of some small word changes introduced by Joseph Smith. These word changes allow for: 

  • A creation of the heavens and the earth out of existing, primordial materials, rather than out of nothing;
  • A 13.8-billion-year-old universe and a 4.5-billion-year-old earth, instead of a young, 6,000-year-old world; 
  • A spheroidal planet with a gaseous, expansive atmosphere, rather than a flat earth beneath a solid, dome-shaped, “firmament” sky; 
  • An appearance of plants and animals through a slow process of ancestors, evolution, and natural selection due to changes in the earth long before their modern forms actually appear–often spilling into subsequent Days–instead of an instantaneous creation confined to one specific Day (see “Let Us Prepare the Earth”: Natural Selection in the Scriptures);
  • A reorganization of the celestial lights from the earth’s and our ancestors’ points of view, rather than a late, paradoxical, post-vegetation creation of the Sun and Moon;
  • A series of environmental changes that “cause” bird and whale ancestors to be successful and reach their current varieties;
  • A creation that is natural and not supernatural;
  • A series of environmental changes that “cause” human ancestors to be successful and take over the world.  

And don’t forget to top all those differences off with an explanation for what happened before the creation, which can be found in Abraham 3. All life, including humans, may have existed premortally in the presence of a loving God. This can help clarify why the earth and its abundant life forms exist in the first place, which is ultimately a question that science cannot answer.

Now, are the boundary times which I assigned between Days set in stone? No. They are thoughtfully placed in their positions at possible dates to conform to the known events of Earth history, and do not necessarily have to be exactly what I have chosen for this to work. The approximate time ranges may be shifted around, and that’s okay because Abraham 4’s usage of “times” of creation instead of “days” allows for this.

Do the differences in Abraham 4 allow it to comply with science? Yes, they do. Genesis 1 has long been found to be an inaccurate depiction of how the earth, plants, animals, and humans came to be. Abraham 4, however, has all the right modifications to allow us to accept the findings of modern science. And Abraham 4, if you remember, was first published in the year 1842–long before most of this natural history timeline had been discovered and figured out. (53)  

Which brings us to another fascinating question:

Did God inspire Joseph Smith to make these subtle word changes in Abraham 4 so that Latter-day Saints could have a scriptural creation account that better matched the findings of the scientific method? One LDS scholar has argued that there’s evidence in Joseph’s journals to suggest that before completing his translation of the Book of Abraham, he “was anticipating the Book of Abraham to shed light on the nature of God, the creation, and the cosmos.” I think Joseph knew that he had something special in Abraham; and if it was going to “shed light” on the subject of creation, it must have had something that Genesis did not have. It must have explained things better, perhaps even been closer to the truth of how and when things really appeared. Did Joseph Smith know that God used something like natural selection to create life on Earth? Probably not, as Darwin’s theory would not be published until over 14 years after Joseph’s death; however, that doesn’t change what’s written in the Book of Abraham. That doesn’t change how astoundingly accurate this account is when compared with natural history. Abraham 4 doesn’t have to comply with science, but it does, and we need to ask why that is. (54)

I think that as members of the Church, we often categorize the creation account in Abraham as just another version or copy of Genesis, but I don’t think we can do that anymore. Abraham 4 is very different from Genesis 1, and we need to recognize that and take a closer look at this remarkable passage of scripture and the science it is able to support. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it currently resides in a collection of books we call “the Pearl of Great Price.” (55)

People outside the Church often deride the Book of Abraham, labeling it as an obvious fake and seeing it as proof that Joseph Smith was an imaginative fraud. If that is so, and if Joseph was an impostor, then how does the Book of Abraham get today’s science so right? How did it get things correct that scientists wouldn’t figure out for several decades to come? What provides the strongest source of ridicule for critics may just be some of the strongest evidence for the divine calling of Joseph Smith. (56)

But no matter what your opinion of the Book of Abraham may be, its message and the message of this blog are the same: Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and science is true.


Sources and Notes

  1. Many people have done good work to show that the intention of the creation account in Genesis is not to teach scientific truth, but spiritual lessons, or something else entirely. See, for example: Latter-day Saint Perspectives, “Episode 45: Misunderstanding the Bible – Benjamin Spackman”, Released July 19, 2017, https://ldsperspectives.com/2017/07/19/genre-bible/; David Buller, “Creation is the Temple Where God Rests”, BioLogos, March 6, 2015, https://biologos.org/articles/series/reflections-on-the-lost-world-of-genesis-1-by-john-walton/creation-is-the-temple-where-god-rests. I think they are right. However, the Book of Abraham deserves some deeper study–because although Genesis doesn’t line up with science, Abraham does!
  2. For the history of the coming forth of the Book of Abraham, see my blog post titled The Pearl of Great Price is Awesome and Prophetic. For a pretty good list of some things that Genesis 1 gets wrong science-wise, see this article from the Huffington Post by David L. Wolper–the Book of Abraham can answer almost all of his points: “Genesis And Science: More Aligned Than You Think?”, Updated May 25, 2011, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-l-wolper/genesis-and-science_b_500201.html.
  3. “Age of the Earth,” Wikipedia, accessed 6/21/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_Earth; “Age of the Universe,” Wikipedia, accessed 6/21/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_universe.
  4. A comparison of the 3 creation accounts in Genesis 1, Moses 2, and Abraham 4 can be found in the 2018 Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/the-pearl-of-great-price-student-manual-2018/a-harmony-of-the-creation-accounts?lang=eng.
  5. Image of Council in Heaven found here: “When we were created did we have a spirit body or were we simply in spirit form?”, ask gramps, Jan 22, 2011, https://askgramps.org/when-we-were-created-did-we-have-a-spirit-body-or-were-we-simply-in-spirit-form/.
  6. Image of chimp found here: “Chimps Trade Tools To Help Out Pals,” DNEWS, 03/20/2013, https://www.seeker.com/chimps-trade-tools-to-help-out-pals-1767329050.html.
  7. For examples of Creationists preaching that God made the world from nothing, see: Dr. Terry Mortenson, “Did God Create (Bara) or Make (Asah) in Genesis 1?”, Answers in Genesis, 15 Aug 2007, https://answersingenesis.org/genesis/did-god-create-bara-or-make-asah-in-genesis-1/; Ken Ham, “How Did God Create Everything From Nothing?”, Answers in Genesis, 29 Apr 2010, https://answersingenesis.org/kids/creation/how-did-god-create-everything-from-nothing/; Ross Peters, “Did God create plants on Day 3 out of nothing?” Creation.com, 7 Jul 2013, https://creation.com/creation-from-nothing-in-genesis-1; Kent Hovind, “Scientific Evidence Disproves Evolution Theory: Facts prove Universe is about 6,000 years old, not billions of years old.”  http://www.wiseoldgoat.com/papers-creation/hovind-introduction.html; “What does creation ex nihilo mean?” GotQuestions.org, https://www.gotquestions.org/creation-ex-nihilo.html.
  8. Image of the formation of the Moon found here: Leonard Kelley, “The Formation of the Moon, or How Did That Get There?”, Owlcation, August 27, 2018, https://owlcation.com/stem/The-Formation-of-the-Moon-or-How-Did-That-Get-There.
  9. “TIMELINE OF THE BIG BANG,” The Physics of the Universe, accessed 6/21/19, https://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_bigbang_timeline.html; “How Do Planets Form?”, Hubblesite, accessed 6/21/19,  http://hubblesite.org/hubble_discoveries/discovering_planets_beyond/how-do-planets-form.
  10. NASA Space Place, “The Solar System’s Formation – Space Place in a Snap,” YouTube, Nov 22, 2013, https://youtu.be/RT4OO0TFLHw. Hazen, Robert M., The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 billion years, from stardust to living planet, Viking Penguin, 2012, pp.31-52. Sarah T. Stewart, “ORIGIN OF THE EARTH AND MOON”,  accessed 6/21/19, http://sarahtstewart.net/origin-earth-and-moon/. Charles Q. Choi, “The Moon May Have Formed When Earth’s Magma Was Blasted Into Space,” 4/29/19, https://www.space.com/moon-formation-impact-earth-magma.html?fbclid=IwAR0rbkhw11yNqsHVt45-OyINbTGYH1S93qNl0Si5DrYI-qKuV8QoMsrzLFM.
  11. Image of the CMB found here: Jeff Filippini, “The Cosmic Microwave Background”, UC Berkeley Cosmology Group, August 2005, http://cosmology.berkeley.edu/Education/CosmologyEssays/The_Cosmic_Microwave_Background.html.
  12. “Origin of water on Earth”, Wikipedia, accessed 6/21/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_water_on_Earth. Peter Christoforou, “Earth’s Water Supply Survived Moon-Forming Impact”, Astronomy Trek, May 1, 2018, http://www.astronomytrek.com/earths-water-supply-survived-moon-forming-impact/. University of Münster. “Formation of the moon brought water to Earth: New research explains how Earth became a habitable planet.” ScienceDaily, 21 May 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190521101505.htm.  Michael Marshall, “The secret of how life on Earth began,” BBC.com, 31 October 2016, http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20161026-the-secret-of-how-life-on-earth-began.
  13. The following sources estimate that the pre-Theia proto-earth had a mass of about 90% of what Earth is today: “What was earth’s mass before the collision with theia?”, Astronomy Stack Exchange, answered Dec 29 ’18, https://astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/28911/what-was-earths-mass-before-the-collision-with-theia; “What was the size of Earth before Theia collided with the planet that resulted the Moon?”, Quora, Answered Apr 20, 2018, https://www.quora.com/What-was-the-size-of-Earth-before-Theia-collided-with-the-planet-that-resulted-the-Moon.
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  19. “Ordered” could also mean “commanded”, which also works well in both instances of the word “ordered” in Abr. 4:7. Either way, the result of this “order” or “ordering” was to cause the expanse to divide the waters below from the waters above. “Order”, Merriam Webster, accessed 7/1/19, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/order. Emphasis added to quoted scriptures.
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  52. Aurochs, the ancestors of all cattle alive today, appear on the scene in the early Pleistocene, around 2 Ma, or as early as 2.58 Ma–thus putting the appearance of cattle direct ancestors at close to the same time or before the appearance of the genus Homo, which comprises all humans. “Aurochs”, Wikipedia, accessed 7/2/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurochs. “Pleistocene”, Wikipedia, accessed 7/2/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleistocene.
  53. ADAM LEE, “The Creation Order of Genesis”, Big Think, 20 July, 2012, https://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/the-creation-order-of-genesis. Note how Abraham 4 fixes all the problems in Genesis 1 that Adam Lee mentions. 
  54. Latter-day Saint Perspectives, “Episode 51: Joseph’s Study of Hebrew and the Book of Abraham – Matthew J. Grey”, Released August 23, 2017, https://ldsperspectives.com/2017/08/30/hebrew-book-abraham/. Joseph Smith was martyred on 27 June 1844. Darwin’s ideas went public on 1 July 1858, when they were presented to the Linnean Society. Darwin’s famous book introducing natural selection was published over a year later on 24 November 1859. “Death of Joseph Smith”, Wikipedia, accessed 7/2/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Joseph_Smith. “On the Origin of Species”, Wikipedia, accessed 7/2/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Origin_of_Species.
  55. The fact that we lump the books of Moses and Abraham into the Old Testament year when studying in Sunday School and seminary–See: Moses 2 (Genesis 1; Abraham 4), “Lesson 10: Moses 2 (Genesis 1; Abraham 4),” Old Testament Seminary Student Material (2018), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/old-testament-seminary-student-material-2018/genesis/lesson-10?lang=eng; The Books of Genesis, Moses, and Abraham, “The Books of Genesis, Moses, and Abraham,” Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide (2002), 9–41, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/manual/old-testament-seminary-student-study-guide/the-books-of-genesis-moses-and-abraham?lang=eng; LDS Perspectives Podcast, “What is Genesis? With Benjamin Spackman”, Released December 27, 2017, http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/5/0/8/508c161aee4a8f0f/LDSP_Ben_Spackman_on_Genesis_1.pdf?c_id=17750846&cs_id=17750846&expiration=1560964654&hwt=8bae41abc7b2a9fdd96981409e77a78f
  56. Mike Winger, “Proof That Mormonism Is Not True: The Book of Abraham”, YouTube, Streamed live on Jan 30, 2018, https://youtu.be/in-sPf0pLQM. J. Warner Wallace, “How the Book of Abraham Exposes the False Nature of Mormonism”, Cold-Case Christianity, June 20, 2014, https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/how-the-book-of-abraham-exposes-the-false-nature-of-mormonism/. Jeremy T. Runnells, ‘The Book of Abraham: “Except for Those Willfully Blind, the Case is Closed”’, CES Letter Foundation, accessed 7/1/19, https://cesletter.org/apologetics/the-book-of-abraham-except-for-those-willfully-blind-the-case-is-closed.html.

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