What did God mean when he called the creation good? (1)

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

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Question: In Genesis 1, is everything "good" because Earth is the only planet that sustains life? This is a thought that dawned on me in a debate with some atheist minded people. I've just realized that to understand the grand creation of God, you must forget about the moral, cultural and all the other metaphysical aspects for a minute and think in a scientific way from a creator's point of view.

When heaven and earth were created, then everything else on it, God called them “good” which implies that something was bad. So, what exactly was bad? Combined with some simple facts of the universe, I quickly figured out that other planets are bad, for they are lifeless barren rocks. Earth is the only planet where living creatures survive and blossom. It's good because it works in every step of the way. This time the gravity is neither too high to cause collapse nor too low to lose the atmosphere, the setting is finally right. This theory explains a lot of things in the following chapters.

My struggle with this theory, though, is that it suggests other planets are failed experiments, all the asteroids are scraps of former attempts, thus God's omnipotence was denied. So it comes down to this: Is our God the God of the universe - or just the earth?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for asking such a deep question about God’s creation. After all, if God looked at aspects of his creation and said they were “good,” what did he mean by that? And what should we conclude about the elements in creation that look anything but good… like the lifeless planets and space debris? Is the fact that lifeless entities exist mean that God somehow failed?

The answer is no… and for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with logic and the limits of language. You see, your question is built on two false premises which you present as dichotomies. These logical fallacies are often called false dilemmas, and they make that part of your question unanswerable. Let me explain.

Just because God said that something was good, this does not imply that its opposite — something bad — exists. Now “bad” does indeed exist. But it doesn’t exist because “good” exists… and it certainly does not exist because the word “good” exists… even if God was the one who uttered it. A word or concept does not have the power (or will) to bring another word or concept into existence.

To your question, a word only says what it says; it does not carry the burden of implication as your question implies. The fact that a word or concept like “good” exists, does not in itself imply that any other words or concepts exist. They stand alone until a person causes other words or concepts to interact with them.

We get this from the philosophy of language and from the study of epistemology. Language has rules and limits: there are rules and limits to how we may legitimately “say” things. But beyond that, there are rules and limits to how we may legitimately “know” things.

Your second false dilemma is in the final paragraph of your question where you said, “So it comes down to this: is our God the God of the universe – or just the earth?” You see, the earth is a subset of the universe. As such, they do not exist in an “either/or” relationship (which is required for a dilemma). They are in a “both/and” relationship (which cannot support a dilemma).

God is never the God of an “either/or” … like either the universe OR the earth. He is the God of a “both/and” … the God of the Universe AND the God of earth. He is the God of all.

So, that’s it for the language-and-logic problems in your question. We needed to cover those to understand why I cannot respond to the dilemmas you tried to establish. But there is a whole other part of your question that I’d like to comment on. This is the idea that all the lifeless matter in the universe might be a failed experiment on the part of God.

This is wrongheaded  — and not just biblically. It fights against centuries of empirical evidence, and it fights against the most current analyses of data from the cosmos. You see, every speck in the universe helped to create the unique environment on planet Earth — an environment which, even among secular scientists, is being seen as so statistically improbable as to be miraculous… but of course, they can’t use that word.

To appreciate this aspect of God’s creation, however, it would help if you were an old-earth creationist like I am… although this is not the position of Got Questions Ministries where I also serve answering questions. I believe the universe to be about 13.8 billion years old, and not merely thousands of years old, as do people who hold a young-earth perspective. To me, all that space “debris” is a testimony to God’s provision. It is not a challenge to his power. But most importantly, it is not a challenge to the Scripture.

You had mentioned an aspect of God’s cosmic fine-tuning in your question… with gravity being just right and the atmosphere staying in place. From an old-earth perspective, all the lifeless entities out in space had a hand at making earth the “Goldilocks” planet that we humans can live on.

Take Jupiter for instance… the biggest lifeless lump in our solar system. It may be far away from our little planet, but it is so massive that it acts like a vacuum cleaner in our solar system. In fact, its substantial mass helped to optimize the number of impacts the earth had sustained. We needed some comets and/or asteroids to strike us (arguably, to bring us water), but if there were too many strikes of the wrong kind, then we’d be the space debris… and another entity would be accreting us!

And here is something you should know about organic life: it’s all made out of space debris. We need things like oxygen and carbon to make life possible… but these are elements, not life… and space debris is made up of elements. But where did all the elements come from? And how were they distributed so that earth could take its time and collect what it needed? That’s the 13.8 billion-dollar question.

I subscribe to the Big Bang cosmological model where God created the universe to expand and change according to all the laws we know… like thermodynamics, gravity, electromagnetism, particle theory… and a few we’re still figuring out. Initially, there were only light elements like hydrogen, but hydrogen was not the “stuff” of life. Life requires heavier elements like carbon, oxygen and iron — and these would come — but first, the hydrogen had to coalesce and form stars.

These stars were factories that created the heavier elements we need for biological life… and it took billions of years for them to use up their fuel. Many stars ended their lives by exploding and sending out the heavier elements they created into the universe… and theses heavier elements would become part of the next generation of stars and planets.

So, after billions of years, these second-generation stars also exploded and sent even heavier debris out in the universe to build yet another generation of stars, and our sun is likely one of these. We are alive today in part because our planet grabbed up these heavy elements… but these elements weren’t even available until the stars created them and distributed them after billions of years in the cooker.

This is how our earth got its iron core… and we’re pretty sure that’s what’s generating the magnetic field around the earth. That field protects living creatures in particular… and civilization in general.

My point in all this is to show that God used a universe full of lifeless debris to create a single planet where life could take hold… so you should not be saying that all non-earth bodies are failures on God’s part. Instead, they were the tools God used them to create our unique world.

This is worth repeating: you and I — and everything that makes life possible — was made from space debris. See what God says about the plants that are needed to support the higher forms of biological life. The earth itself brought them forth.

The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:12, ESV, emphasis mine)

Furthermore, the Bible says that the earth itself even brought forth animal life.

“And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.” (Genesis 1:24, ESV, emphasis mine)

And finally, why did God use this material… this dust… to make humankind when he could have made us out of thin air? And why did he give us this detail about our physical origins?

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7, NIV, emphasis mine)

My point is that, from an old-earth perspective, God used every particle in the universe to make us. It just took some time. But there were no mistakes… and there was no waste… and I’m okay with being the dusty soulish creature that I am.

God bless you.

(This article questioned spawned another. Click here to see the continuing discussion.)

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