While Genesis 1:1-2 has indicated for millennia that the earth was the first thing created–indeed the Sun, Moon, and stars would not be fashioned until day 4 (see Gen 1:14-19)–Joseph Smith produced the Book of Abraham in 1842, which states that the first thing created was a star. (Facsimile 2, Figure 1)
Was he right? Let’s dive into it.
YECs vs Science
Biblical literalists and Young Earth Creationists insist that before there was the Moon, before the Sun was made, and even before there were stars at all in the universe, the first thing God created was the earth, the planet we stand on. “When we look carefully at Genesis 1,” writes YEC proponent Ken Ham, “… it is clear that God created everything in six literal (24-hour) days. First, we are told that He created the earth in darkness and then created light.” (1)
“In the beginning,” records Genesis during the first day, “God created the heaven and the earth.” Although the heaven had been created on day 1, no stars had been, for we see that on the fourth day, “God made two great lights”, the Sun and the Moon, and “he made the stars also” (Genesis 1:16). According to the Old Testament, first came the earth, then the Sun, then the stars.
But this is a wildly different order of events than we’re given by the accepted natural history of our cosmos. According to science, the first “structure” or object in the universe was a star. I guess you could say the first creation was a star. Before that, everything else was elemental–hydrogen and helium (and maybe some lithium), floating around in space. No structures. No objects. No light either. Just gas or “chaotic matter”, as Joseph Smith might say. It was only long after the first stars had formed that the first planets could come into existence. This is because it was the stars that made the heavier elements like carbon, iron, and silicon–the kind of stuff that planets are made of. According to science, planets–even the Planet Earth–could not be made until after the first stars. (2)
Joseph Smith vs Science
What did Joseph Smith have to say about what was created first? We all know what Genesis says, and how some religionists today interpret it; but Joseph Smith–a man who believed the Bible to be true–produced some things that challenge the Earth-First Hypothesis, and which, frankly, bring him in perfect harmony with what we now know about the universe.
In 1841, a man recorded Joseph teaching that the earth was made out of portions of other globes—which thing, apparently, the Prophet said for the purpose of bearing “testimony that this Earth was not the first of God’s work.” Before Earth could be made, those “globes” had to exist—whatever they were. (see That Time Joseph Smith Said the Earth Was Made of Planets) (4)
A year later, in 1842, Joseph Smith published what is today known as the Book of Abraham, where the ancient prophet Abraham sees and learns about the stars, being taught by the Creator Himself. Abraham sees that the stars are “very great”, “governing” bodies, and that the “greatest” one is called Kolob (Abraham 3:1-2, 16). Later, by way of a drawing, Joseph tells us that Kolob is “the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God” (Facsimile 2, Figure 1). In short, according to the Book of Abraham, the star Kolob was the first creation God made.
But there’s a bit more even. Although not canonized, other documents were produced by Joseph in connection with the Book of Abraham. The Grammar & Alphabet of the Egyptian Language reads, 1) “Kolob it signifies first beginning to the bodies of this creation, the first creation, also having been appointed for the last time the last or eldest”; 2) “It [Kolob] signifies the wonder of Abraham the eldest of all the Stars, the greatest body of the heavenly bodies that ever was discovered by man”; and 3) “the first great grand governing fixed star”. Clearly, Kolob was the “first” “body” made in “this creation”, the “eldest of all the Stars” there ever were. Kolob was formed before any of the other bodies in the universe, before other stars or planets (such as the earth); and it was the first star born, being older than any other star (like the “eldest” child among a cadre of siblings). According to Joseph Smith, before the earth or anything else was made, there were stars. (6)
And this, of course, is exactly what science currently teaches us about the timeline of our universe: Big Bang, unorganized matter collapses into the first stars, those die and then spread the essentials for other stars, planets, and life throughout the cosmos. The first stars literally made planets possible, and so had to have come first. There wasn’t any other way for it to happen. Joseph Smith was a Bible-toting-and-quoting christian, but even he somehow knew that despite what Genesis might say, the first thing made by God was a star.
“Structure formation in the Big Bang model proceeds hierarchically, due to gravitational collapse, with smaller structures forming before larger ones. The earliest structures to form are the first stars (known as Population III stars), dwarf galaxies, and quasars…”Wikipedia, retrieved 19 Jun 2020 (7)
It’s important to note that Joseph Smith didn’t teach that the first creation was the Sun. The Sun is a star yes, but it wasn’t the first star made. Joseph taught that the first thing created in the universe was a star that preceded the Sun (see Facsimile 2, Figures 1-2). This of course, is perfectly consistent with our modern understanding of the timeline of the universe. Our earth wasn’t the first thing made. It only came after a succession of stars, which began with the first generation of stars in the cosmos. And the first group of stars, of course, had to begin with a single star—the first creation.
Some History of Thought on the Subject
That Young Earth Creationists believe the earth was made before anything else is an incredible fact nowadays, but what did people generally believe in Joseph’s day? What was the science about the chronology of the cosmos in 1842? I need you to know that I have not done an in-depth historical analysis of the minds and beliefs of Joseph’s contemporaries, but based on the modest timeline I have assembled below, I’d wager that nobody knew (or had very supportable ideas about) the order in which things really appeared, and that Joseph definitely couldn’t have filched his Stars-First Hypothesis from an astrophysics textbook at the library.
First off, scientists weren’t really sure how far away stars even were until a few years before the Book of Abraham was published–turns out they’re super far away. It would take about 8 to 17 years after the Book of Abraham’s publication before they realized they could determine the chemical composition of stars using starlight–they contain all sorts of elements depending on their classification. It wouldn’t be until 1920 that someone suggested that stars turn hydrogen into helium. In 1927, the Big Bang was proposed–our universe began at some point? 20ish years after that, it was theorized that stars perform stellar nucleosynthesis, making all sorts of new elements. In 1978, someone hypothesized the existence of the first generation of stars, Population III. And in 2016 they figured out about when the first stars formed (around 300 million years after the Big Bang)…. In summary, it took well over 100 years after Joseph’s Stars-First Hypothesis for scientists to catch up–Yeah, the first creations, structures, or bodies in the universe were stars. Joseph Smith was right.
Here’s my crude timeline of discovery:
Timeline of History of Thought on What Was First
- Pre-1800s: Genesis says the order of things created was Earth, Sun, then stars.
- 1835: Auguste Comte, a prominent French philosopher, states that humans would never be able to understand the chemical composition of stars.
- 1838: the first measurement of any stellar distances made. The other stars are far away.
- 1841: Joseph Smith says Earth was not the first of God’s work
- 1842: Joseph Smith says first thing created was a star
- 1850?: Joseph Fraunhofer discovers that light from the Sun and Sirius through a prism make absorption lines.
- 1859: Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen discover that Fraunhofer’s lines of absorption pertain to certain chemicals.
- 1861: Warren de la Rue says, “If we were to go to the sun, and to bring some portions of it and analyze them in our laboratories, we could not examine them more accurately than we can by this new mode of spectrum analysis.”
- 1885: Edward C. Pickering undertakes an ambitious program of stellar spectral classification using spectra recorded on photographic plates.
- 1888: Samuel Pierpong Langley writes, “…within a comparatively few years, a new branch of astronomy has arisen which studies the sun, moon, and stars for what they are in themselves and in relation to ourselves.”
- 1920: The Great Debate: Were there other galaxies out there, or was our Milky Way all there was in the universe?
- 1920: Arthur Eddington proposed that stars obtained their energy from nuclear fusion of hydrogen to form helium and raised the possibility that the heavier elements are produced in stars.
- 1924: Edwin Hubble discovers there are more galaxies than the one we live in. The universe is far bigger than we thought.
- 1927: Georges Lemaître theorizes Big Bang
- 1929: Hubble discovers the universe is expanding
- 1946: Fred Hoyle proposes stellar nucleosynthesis
- 1954: Hoyle describes how advanced fusion stages within massive stars would synthesize the elements from carbon to iron in mass.
- 1978: Population III stars theorized
- 2016: Analysis of such observations made by the Planck microwave space telescope in 2016 concluded that the first generation of stars may have formed from around 300 million years after the Big Bang.
Say what you want about Joseph Smith or the validity and origins of the Book of Abraham–Joseph got the order of things appearing after the Big Bang exactly right: first stars, then planets. How do you explain that?
Sources and Notes
- https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/answers-in-genesis/read/articles/six-literal-days-16279.html; https://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-ordercreation.html; https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2016/05/04/creationist-ken-ham-the-earth-was-created-before-the-sun-and-the-bible-backs-me-up/
- http://signaturebookslibrary.org/essential-joseph-smith-48/; https://www.thoughtco.com/stellar-nucleosynthesis-2699311#:~:text=Stellar%20nucleosynthesis%20is%20the%20process,helium%2C%20heat%2C%20and%20radiation.