Selected Teachings on
The following scientific perspective on each day of creation was written by LDS scholars Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes in their book The Pearl of Great Price, A Verse by Verse Commentary (2013), in the chapter entitled "The Creation".
In this chapter they provide this disclaimer: “[T]he dating of the events listed ... are science’s best estimates of when these things occurred. These dates are not to be taken as Church doctrine. They could be completely wrong. God may have ways of accomplishing his works that are far beyond our present (or even future) scientific understanding.”
First Period—Formation of the Solar System (Genesis 1:1-5; Moses 2:1-5; Abraham 4:1-5)
Abraham and Moses here described what they saw in a vision using a vocabulary that lacks the specialized scientific words we now use. Several things occurred during this first period: the Gods organized and formed the solar system—the sun and its associated planets, asteroids, comets, meteorites, and sundry dust and gas—out of prior existing, chaotic matter. In this primeval state, darkness “reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters” (Abraham 4:2). But how does this compare with the present scientific theory of the formation of our solar system? According to best estimates, some 4.7 billion years ago there was a large cloud of gas and dust, which, perhaps stimulated by the shock wave of a nearby supernova, began to rotate and collapse upon itself because of the mutual gravitational attraction of the constituent gas molecules and dust particles. Since approximately 75 percent of all matter in the universe is hydrogen, this was a major component of the cloud. Abraham and Moses perhaps used the term “waters” or “deep” to describe this cloud consisting predominantly of hydrogen, since water is composed of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen (H2O; the word hydrogen means “water source” in Greek). As this cloud of gas and dust began to collapse, it became denser and began to block out light, hence the darkness. There are regions in our galaxy where we see these dark clouds (the Horse Head Nebula in Orion is perhaps the most well known) in which infrared observations show new stars forming (Zeilik, 1992, 390).
As this cloud continued to collapse, regions of higher density formed within it. At the center, in particular, the density became especially high, and as the gravitational potential energy was converted to heat, this got progressively hotter until the density and temperature were high enough to sustain nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium. The smaller regions of higher density farther from the center of the cloud eventually formed the nine planets, the asteroids, and the comets of our solar system. Close to the sun the temperature was higher, which allowed the formation of only small, rocky planets like the earth. Further out, the lower temperatures allowed the formation of the larger, gaseous planets like Jupiter (Zeilik, 1992, 141-45).
Once fusion started in the core of the proto-sun, the light pressure began to blow off the remaining dust and gas. Stars in this stage of development, that is pre-main sequence stars surrounded by dark clouds of gas and dust, have been observed and are called T-Tauri stars. Naked T-Tauri stars are the next stage, in which the cloud has mostly been dispersed (Zeilik, 1992, 341, 391). Thus, the creation of light during the first period seems to refer to the ignition of nuclear fusion in the core of the sun. It is not, however, until the fourth period that the various “lights” in the heavens become visible, because it takes some time for the light pressure of the sun that began to shine in the first period to disperse the dark cloud of gas and dust in which the solar system was formed.
The earth, too, was formed in this cloud of gas and dust by the accretion of rocky bodies produced within the cloud. This accretion, as well as the decay of radioactive elements, produced a rapid internal heating, which drove off the initial atmosphere of hydrogen and inert gases and melted the planet. Lighter materials rose to the surface to ultimately form the crust of the earth, and the denser material sank to form the molten nickel-iron core. The earth began to cool, and by about 3.7 billion years ago, the first continents appeared and plate tectonics began (Zeilik, 1992, 76).
The events of the first period then took place roughly from 4.6 to 3.6 billion years ago, according to the most recent scientific dating techniques....
Second Period—Formation of the Atmosphere (Genesis 1:6-8; Moses 2:6-8; Abraham 4:6-8)
In the second creative period, God formed an “expanse” in the midst of the “waters” to divide the waters above from the waters below (see Genesis 1:6, Moses 2:6, Abraham 4:6). This seems to be describing the formation of the earth’s atmosphere. About 4.0 billion years ago, volcanic activity caused by interior heating in the earth’s crust created the second atmosphere, containing outgassed water, methane, ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. The infall of large objects continued, fracturing the earth’s crust. The scars of this bombardment have been weathered away on the earth but are still clearly visible on the moon. Ocean basins were formed by this bombardment, and the Earth’s surface cooled enough for rain to fall and begin filling the basins (Zeilik, 1992, 76).
Beginning about 3.5 billion years ago, photosynthesis by cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae—primitive one-celled organisms without a distinct nucleus) began to release oxygen into the atmosphere (Shu, 1982, 494). However, prior to 2 billion years ago, there seems to have been very little free oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere. It was a reducing atmosphere (one without any free oxygen). Large deposits of reduced minerals, such as banded iron chert, detrital pyrite, and uranite, could not have formed if even 0.1 percent of the atmosphere had been oxygen. Sometime between 2.0 and 1.5 billion years ago, levels of oxygen increased because of the biologic activity of the cyanobacteria. From that time on, no more reduced minerals were laid down, and only oxidized minerals were formed (Rich, 1996, 79). About 1.5 billion years ago, green algae, the first eukaryotes (organisms with nuclei in their cells), began to appear. Green algae are very efficient photosynthesizers, and they added more oxygen to the atmosphere until about 800 million years ago when it reached about 5 percent of the present value (Emiliani, 1988, 156).
Another important element of the atmosphere also formed during this period—the ozone layer. Energetic ultraviolet photons began to dissociate water molecules in the atmosphere. The hydrogen escaped into space, and the oxygen atom was left behind. The oxygen in turn combined to form molecular oxygen (O2) and other molecules. As O2 accumulated in the upper atmosphere, it was again dissociated into free oxygen atoms, which in turn combined with other O2 molecules to form ozone. The disassociation-association process eventually stabilized, forming the ozone layer. This layer filtered out the harmful ultraviolet light, preventing further dissociation of water and allowing life to flourish, since ultraviolet light is lethal to most organisms (Shu, 1982, 492).
The proper mixture of gases in the atmosphere is critically important for sustaining life on earth. For example, although carbon dioxide and water vapor make up only a very small part of the atmosphere, without the greenhouse effect produced by them, the average temperature of the earth would be -40°C (Emiliani, 1988, 157). It seems clear that God, at various stages of the creative process, arranged for modifications in the earth’s atmosphere to ultimately provide one suited to the animal and plant life now found here.
The earth’s magnetic field, produced by its rotating liquid nickeliron core, also helps protect life on the earth’s surface. This field deflects the potentially harmful stream of charged particles coming from the sun, called the solar wind, and forms the well-known Van Allen radiation belts (Zeilik, 1992, 72-4).
The events of the second period, in which the present atmosphere of the earth was formed, seem to have occurred from around 4.0 billion to 600 million years ago, thus overlapping with both the first and third periods....
Third Period—Formation of Oceans, Continents, and Plant Life (Genesis 1:9-13; Moses 2:9-13; Abraham 4:9-13)
During this creative period, God formed the seas, and dry land appeared. As indicated above, the water that forms the seas and other bodies of water came from the volcanic outgassing of water vapor, which condensed as rain and began to fill the low-lying areas. Also, with the cooling of the earth’s crust around 3.7 billion years ago, the major continental plates formed and the process known as plate tectonics began (Zeilik, 1992, 76). As the various continental plates collided with each other, mountain ranges emerged, a process that continues to the present time. The weathering of the earth by rain and wind also caused major changes over time.
Next, God prepared the earth for plant life. When the earth was first formed, it was far from being a favorable environment for life. It had an atmosphere of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, sulfur, methane, and so on, but was lacking any free oxygen. Plants would be the obvious thing to place first on the earth. Their ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen would in turn prepare the earth for animal life. The oldest fossils, called stromatolites, consist of cyanobacteria dating back some 3.5 billion years, and they remained the dominant form of life until about 1.5 billion years ago (Emiliani, 1988, 151), although in Precambrian rocks found in South Africa, from the oldest age of the earth, there are also fossil remains of tiny rod-shaped forms resembling living bacteria in their cell-wall structure (Rich, 1996, 91). This means that life appeared on the earth very soon after the crust solidified. There is some genetic evidence that perhaps archaebacteria preceded the cyanobacteria, but there is no fossil evidence to support this (Emiliani, 1988, 150).
It is interesting that some scientists have proposed terraforming the planet Venus (converting it to an earthlike environment) by seeding its clouds with cyanobacteria, which would convert the predominantly carbon dioxide atmosphere to oxygen. The reduction of carbon dioxide would in turn reduce the greenhouse effect, and the temperature would drop. Eventually, water vapor in the atmosphere (which contains enough water to cover the entire surface of Venus with 100 inches of water) would condense and fall as rain. Over time, the surface temperature of Venus would drop to 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit with oceans forming in the depressions (Berry, 1974, 70-73).5 This is, in essence, the process God seems to have used in preparing our earth for more advanced life forms.
Land plants appeared much later, during the middle Silurian period, some 420 million years ago, and did not become common until near the end of the Devonian, about 360 million years ago. The first appearance of flowering plants (angiosperms) was not until about 120 million years ago. Grasses are not found until around 57 million years ago (Rich, 1996, 67, 33-35).
The progressive appearance of plant life6 on the earth thus stretched over an enormously long period of time—from about 3.5 billion years ago to 57 million years ago, by which time the variety of plant life was much like what we now have on the earth....
Fourth Period—Appearance of Sun Moon, and Stars (Genesis 1:14-19; Moses 2:14-19; Abraham 4:14-19)
During this phase of the Creation, God organized the various “lights” in the heavens—the sun, moon, and stars. As stated in the section on the first creative period, once hydrogen fusion had started in the sun, light pressure would have gradually blown out the remaining gas and dust of the original cloud from which the solar system formed, thus progressively making these various heavenly bodies visible. This dispersal of the gas and dust occurred within a few million years after fusion started in the proto-sun. Organizing the lights for seasons, days, and years can also have reference to the setting of the orbital and rotational periods of the earth and moon, a year being the time it takes the earth to orbit once around the sun. A month was originally the time from one new moon to another, the period of the moon’s orbit around the earth. A day is the time it takes the earth to rotate once upon its axis. The seasons, too, can be determined by which constellations are visible at a given period during the year. Moreover, the various seasons—winter, summer, spring, and fall—are a consequence of the tilt of the earth’s axis with respect to its orbital plane, as well as the eccentricity of its orbit about the sun. All these aspects of the motion of the earth and moon had to be fine-tuned to produce the times and seasons we now have....
Fifth Period—Creation of Sea Animals and Birds (Genesis 1:20-23; Moses 2:20-23; Abraham 4:20-23)
God’s preparation of the waters to support animal life included providing the proper proportions of dissolved salt and other minerals and ensuring that there would be sources of oxygen and food (plants). In agreement with the scriptural accounts, both plant and animal life first appeared in the ocean. Only in rocks less than 1.5 billion years old are there microfossils of eukaryotic cellular organisms, which are much more complicated than the prokaryotic cyanobacteria (Shu, 1982, 495). Only when oxygen levels reached about 5 percent of the present value, some 800 million years ago, did more complex multicelluar life (metazoa) appear (Emiliani, 1988, 159).
About 600 million years ago, at the beginning of the Cambrian period, there was a rapid increase in the variety of higher life forms (Shu, 1982, 487). Around 590 million years ago, exoskeletal animals such as trilobites, brachiopods, and shelled mollusks appeared. By 550 million years ago, the first vertebrates, such as jawless fish and graptolites, appeared (Rich, 1996, 33-35).
It is not until 145 million years ago that birds first appear. Why birds are included with sea animals rather than land animals is not clear, but as we stated before, the separation into periods is, in a sense, artificial since the creative process was a continuous one....
Sixth Period—Creation of Land Animals (Genesis 1:24; Moses 2:24-25; Abraham 4:24-25)
In the sixth and final period of creation, God prepared the land to be an environment conducive to life. This included the weathering of rocks to produce soil, the establishment of land plants to provide food and oxygen for the land animals, and so on. As this process progressed, more complex forms of animal life could be supported. The fossil records show that about 370 million years ago, amphibians first appeared. By 340 million years ago the earliest reptiles (cotylosaurs) were present, and by 320 million years ago mammal-like reptiles (pelycosaurs) were found. Winged insects appeared around 310 million years ago, and dinosaurs came on the scene about 240 million years ago. By 220 million years ago, there was a large variety of mammal-like reptiles, but it was not until about 90 million years ago that marsupials (animals with pouches like the kangaroo) and placentals (animals in which the young develop in a womb or placenta) appeared (Rich, 1996, 33-35).
Around 65 million years ago, the end of the Cretaceous period, there was a period of mass extinction in which dinosaurs and many other kinds of life disappeared. This may have been caused by the impact of a giant asteroid (Rich, 1996, 33-35). The fossil record also shows other major extinction events, such as the Permian period, around 250 million years ago (Rich, 1996, 247).
Sixty-two million years ago, the first primates appeared, and by 60 million years ago, there was a great diversity of mammal types. Rodents first arrived on the scene about 45 million years ago, and hominids (man-like creatures) about 19 million years ago (Rich, 1996, 33-35)....
Sixth Period (Continued)—Creation of Man (Genesis 1:26-31; Moses 2:26-31; Abraham 4:26-31)
From the scientific perspective, the first appearance of fossils of Homo sapiens (human beings) seems to have been about 125,000 years ago. This happened to be at about the temperature maximum of the last interglacial period. By 18,000 years ago, the last ice age reached its peak, with glaciers covering large areas of northern Europe and North America (Emiliani, 1988, 195). About 11,600 years ago, there was a rapid warming, and the ice sheets melted, producing catastrophic floods down the Mississippi Valley and other places (Emiliani, 1988, 195; and Rich, 1996, 617).
This final phase of the Creation thus seems to have covered a period from about 370 million years ago to the point when Adam was first placed on the earth.