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I've read Differences in Genesis creation stories but there's one aspect that's not discussed: how did plants survive without sunlight?

Genesis 1:11 recounts the third day:

And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so.

EDIT: Up to this point, apparently there was no mention of physical light. Genesis 1:14-16 tells us about the fourth day (what "day" means without a Sun to create the 24-hour contemporary day, is figurative and most scholars take it to mean "a long time"):

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights - the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night - and the stars.

While Genesis 1:3 mentions "Let there be light", I take this figuratively, since the Sun wasn't created until Day 4.

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    "Up to this point, there was no light." I think you're forgetting something from a few verses before. – curiousdannii Mar 29 '15 at 7:35
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    @curiousdannii: you're right, "Let there be light" in Genesis 1:3. But was that light in the solar sense, that plants could photosynthesize? I took in an allegoric meaning, since there was no Sun to give said light (the Sun was created on Day 4). – Dan Dascalescu Mar 29 '15 at 8:24
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    You have a valid point.Plants cannot photosynthesize without the rays from the sun. – Bagpipes Mar 29 '15 at 10:23
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    This appears to a question based upon all kinds of assumptions, the light mentioned in 1:3 cannot be used for photosynthesis, the days cannot be literal, and the God who has the power to create something from nothing needs to rely on the natural processes of life we now experience post fall to maintain the life - if any of those assumptions are incorrect the there is no issue, for example if the days are literal then the plants only needed to live for a maximum of 24 hours without sunlight - something plants manage easily. – Jonathan Chell Mar 29 '15 at 15:20
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    @bagpipes I am not sure that is true, my fish tank has artificial lamps for the process - it is the right wavelengths that are needed not a particular sources. – Jonathan Chell Mar 29 '15 at 15:23
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Revelation 22:5 Mentions that God is the source of light in heaven:

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.

This indicates that it is possible for God himself to be a source of light. When God said "Let there be light" in Genesis 1:3, he doesn't specify a light source, but it is very possible that he himself was that source.

Additionally, plants do not specifically need light from the sun in order to survive, just the correct wavelengths from any source (hence why plants can be grown in man-made lighting conditions). The initial light that God created in 1:3 could very well have contained the correct wavelength makeup for their survival.

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  • Relatively plausible explanation. – Dan Dascalescu Mar 30 '15 at 9:16
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    @DanDascalescu I'm not sure how this is plausible, if anything that verse is relating to a spiritual light. Logically it doesn't stand: #1 There is night #2 we need the light of the sun and so do plants. You can't just pick out a section of the verse like "they will not need the light" and ignore the rest of the words and force it to make a point. – Blankman Mar 30 '15 at 14:02
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    The verse I've referenced indicates that God could be viable replacement as a light source. The sun is not a spiritual light and it is referenced in the same verse. When considering the source of light in Genesis 1:3, we know that there are very few physical options as far as light sources go. Either God, the earth, or another light source that he created before the sun was made. This answer (and the verse I've referenced) indicates that of those three, God himself is a possibility. – user640 Mar 30 '15 at 14:38
  • How do you take a text from Genesis and begin with another text written thousands of years later to explain it with no background or connection of the dots? – Dan Aug 24 '15 at 1:52
  • Heat would also come in handy for the plants. – Ruminator Oct 11 '17 at 14:15
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I think you may be reading this passage without its' goal in mind. The point of the creation story is not to record the exact scientific sequence of creation in a journalistic manner - but instead to teach the people of Israel an important lesson about God. This is not a recipe for creation with the exact ingredients, measurements and baking instructions for creating, and therefore we should read Genesis not asking the question what the creation account tells about Science, but instead what the creation account tells us about God - because is the text's objective and the intent with which the author wrote it.

The reason that this is important is that the ancient middle easterner had no concept of modern scientific theories. Their entire cosmology was based upon their observations and deduction. They therefore reached a number of conclusions about the earth based upon these observations and deductions to come up with a cosmology that is vastly different than the way the universe is actually laid out. This also means that they had no concept of cosmic rays and photosynthesis. I am sure that plants are capable of surviving in the dark for 4 days, but this matters little to the theological point.

This is not to say that the scriptures and the creation account should not be read literally. But it does mean that under a literal interpretation, we must take the good with the bad. So if we read the scripture literally, when scripture says the earth is flat, this must also be taken literally. If we can therefore move past the fact that scripture literally says the earth is flat without this being a crushing blow to our faith, then we can also move past the fact that plants were created before light, or the fact that in Genesis 2:5-10 it indicates that plants did not appear until after the creation of mankind (The same word, שִׂ֣יחַ is used in both Genesis 1 and Genesis 2:5) and similar contradictions and incongruities. These needn't detract from the theological truth and perfection of scriptures unless we let them by examining scripture from the wrong frame of reference.

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  • I understand what your saying, but since God created this universe with such precision and gave us minds that appreciate such beauty and perfection, if you read something that contradicts what the human brain can understand (which God created)...why isn't this also like the creation of the heavens and the earth i.e. perfect in all aspects and free from contradictions. – Blankman Mar 30 '15 at 14:05
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People have long wondered and pondered this question and "how could light be created before the Sun" An interesting point to ponder, is that light (sunlight as we know it) was in the ideals of ancient biblical man not dependant on the sun. light was independent and existed as a cycle between Day and night. Dark existed in the "begining Genesis 1:2

Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water.

God then "created light" and separated the light from the primal darkness Genesis 1:4,5 (link above)

1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness. 1:5 God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.”

Dr. Steven DiMattei Discusses this subject on his blog titled Genesis 1:3-5 — Day is Light

How can light be created or exist, it is often asked, before the sun was created?... Genesis’ unique portrait of the creation of the world, in other words, was not shaped by objective or divinely-inspired knowledge; rather it was shaped by the perspectives, beliefs, and limited empirical understanding—or misunderstanding as the case may be-about the nature of the cosmos and its elements.

The problem is, we very often impose our 21st century knowledge of the cosmos onto biblical writings, and forget they were written in a long past time, when this knowledge did not exist. Things like heaven and earth was not, in the mind of the writer of Gen 1, the universe and a "ball" shaped planet called Earth. The Sun, Moon, and Stars were not in space, but were set in the firmament and circled the Earth. The Sun symbolized Day, the moon and stars, Night, each was it's own lumanare. Day was a creation in and of itself. Darkness (night) didn't need to be created as it existed before creation began.

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For those of us who take the first creation account in Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) literally, every apparent contradiction has an explanation. Perhaps not one that will satisfy the scientist or the sceptic, but one that will satisfy the believer.

Simply put, God chose to create another light source on day 1, in verse 1:3, and chose to have it darken on a regular, daily basis, even though to have created the sun at this time would have been easier. This light source was enough to allow plants to grow until God replaced his first light source with the sun.

Of greater concern to the critical literalist is that there was liquid water on earth even before that first light was created:

Genesis 1:2: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

The Hebrew for wind and spirit are the same (ruach), so perhaps there was already an atmosphere, which otherwise seems uncreated. As we know, a solitary rock alone in the universe should have been at a temperature of absolute zero, so there ought to be no liquid water or atmosphere.

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  • I'm afraid that literal inerrancy is a tough pill to swallow in the face of science. – Dan Dascalescu Mar 30 '15 at 3:25
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    @DanDascalescu. Perhaps I have got the wrong end of the stick, but I do not think that Dick Harfield is arguing from an "inerrancy" position. – fdb Mar 30 '15 at 10:18
  • @fdb You are quite correct. I was i) presenting the 'inerrant' point of view; ii) identifying problems with that point of view, that I believe creationists have not addressed. My strong view is that this passage, at least, should be read as an allegory. – Dick Harfield Mar 30 '15 at 20:22
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    Another option is to see it as a historic document reflecting the mythology of a pre-scientific civilisation. – fdb Mar 30 '15 at 22:20
  • @fdb Yes, it would be fascinating to discuss the origins of the first creation story, but that is not what the question asks. I (and I think the other answerers) have stuck to issues surrounding the apparent contradiction of plants existing before the sun. – Dick Harfield Mar 30 '15 at 22:44
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How did plants survive without the sun? If the creation account is describing physical events in the sequence they occur, the plants were created during the day on the third day and the sun during the day on the fourth day. The time the plants would need to survive is less than 24-hours:

And there was evening an morning the second day. (1:8)

Plants created during the third day (1:11-12)

And there was evening and morning the third day. (1:13)

The sun and other stars created (1:14-18)

And there was evening and morning the fourth day (1:19)

Plants are able to survive short periods of time without sunlight. Given how the events are described, it is possible the duration of time was comparable to a single "night." (If the events are taken as literal truth, that is, a day is a 24-hour day.)

A greater physical quandary would be how plants were able to germinate without the sun. That points to a sequence that requires a creative act of God. The sequence of plants and then the sun both defies nature and places the sun in a position of secondary importance to plants (including trees). Later men will see the sun as one of the essential elements of the natural world on which life depends. This will lead to the idolatry of worshiping the sun as a type of god. In that regard, the creation account in the Hebrew Bible sets itself apart from other ancient myths and reinforces the point that God is the true source and support of all life (from the moment the first plant was made).

The second aspect is on light created on the first day. Does the creation of the sun and all of the other stars on the fourth day relegate the light on the first day to a figurative action?

Both the Bible (taken as literal truth) and the natural world answer: no.

Light is an energy emission from any matter. Individual atoms can emit a single photon of light. A group of atoms, such as a star made up of hydrogen, emits light which is visible because the number atoms emitting photons is large enough to be seen.

The "big bang" is the current natural theory of the origination of the universe. This event started a sequence of events which would lead to the formation of hydrogen and helium atoms. It was also accompanied by enormous heat. That heat would cause any physical particle (that could) to emit light. An example from the world which we are all familiar is a fire or a hot stove where light is emitted from objects like wood or metal.

According to modern physics, 24-hours after the big bang the universe was a place of an incredibly high temperatures. So despite the absence of any stars, the universe would be place of an incredible amount of physical light. In fact, the amount of light after 24-hours would be greater than the amount at any point in the future. The reason is that on the first day, all matter would be giving off light, not just some as in the current state.

Not only is the light on the first day not figurative, it correctly describes what a modern physicist believes happened.

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