The Moon’s Origin (And Why Genesis Cannot Be Right About It)

Concerning the moon’s origin, the Los Angeles Times today tells the basic scientific story with admirable clarity:

The Earth and moon formed after the proto-Earth collided with another huge planetary body, sometimes referred to as Theia. […] Two planets, one Earth-sized and one Mars-sized, slammed together. The smaller body, Theia, was obliterated completely, its materials flung asunder to form a disk around the Earth that before long coalesced to form the moon.

Scientists have pieced this scenario together from the available evidence. And it carries with it a disturbing implication for fundamentalist religion: because of the great energies released on collision, the surface of the Earth would have turned molten (if it was not already).

This means that if the scientific story is correct, Genesis 1 cannot reasonably be reconciled with it.


Because Genesis 1 says the moon was created on the fourth day of creation week. But if the moon was created in the manner described by scientists, the collision of Theia and Earth would have wiped out what was done by God on the second and third creation days. On day two, the rain and oceans are said to have appeared (“the waters above and below”); and on day three, the land and its plants are said to have appeared.

2500 years ago, when the psalmist looked up into the night sky on a cloudless evening, it wasn’t unreasonable of him to infer from what he saw that the heavens declare the existence and glory of God. Perhaps it’s still not unreasonable to believe that today. But in the 21st century, it’s also not unreasonable to look at the heavens and conclude that the cold and weary moon, once hot with the passion of its collision with Earth and having moved from innocence to blistering experience, now also declares that the author of Genesis 1 is, quite simply, wrong.

I can imagine, if one were to put giant reading glasses on the ashen and old grandpa face of the moon, and gave him Genesis 1 to read, he would wince with ill memories, then frown and exclaim, “Oh, dear! That is not how it happened! That’s not how it happened at all!”

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to The Moon’s Origin (And Why Genesis Cannot Be Right About It)

  1. dcyates says:

    I think I’ve already mentioned this here before, but nonetheless…
    Genesis 1 isn’t wrong, because it was never meant to be read as a chronological — much less scientific — account of the creation of the universe. As with all literature, in order to most accurately understand it, we first need to determine its genre. After all, we’re not meant to read poetry the same way we read a newspaper article. “Genre” is, in a way, the contract between the author and reader: “I’ll write poetry. You read it as poetry.” It’s unfair for the reader to declare the author wrong, ignorant, or deceptive, when the author was writing poetry but the reader was treating it as though it was a newspaper article.
    What’s more, labelling literature as poetical is obviously not to say there isn’t truth being communicated by it. Indeed, depending on the content, context, and what’s intended, often poetry is the best genre with which to write about truth. There’s a reason why there are literally countless songs about love, and virtually none about the general theory of relativity. As well, (since you mention him) Wm. Blake’s “Tiger, tiger, burning bright/In the forests of the night” communicates far more effectively what it’s like to be in the imposing, menacing presence of a tiger than would reading through a 500 volume set of books consisting of nothing but the DNA sequencing of Panthera tigris.
    So, all that said, what is the genre in which Genesis 1 is written? The first thing one notices when reading through it is the frequent repetition: “And God said…” “And God said…” “And God said….” “Let there be…” “Let there be…” “Let there be….” “… and it was so,” “… and it was so,” “… and it was so,” “And God saw…” “And God saw…” “And God saw….” (I’m sure you get the idea).
    Now, we know what Hebrew poetry looks like and this is not, strictly speaking, Hebrew poetry. So, Genesis 1 doesn’t read like the Psalms, but neither does it read like the books of Joshua or Samuel. Rather, Genesis 1 is ‘poetical’. Moreover, we would do well to compare and contrast it with all the other extant “creation” accounts of the ancient Near East (but doing so here would make this already loquacious response virtually “book-like” in length — and I’ve probably already tried your collective patience).
    In conclusion, all this is to say that Genesis 1 isn’t intended to be interpreted in a wooden literal fashion. It’s a carefully structured theological work reflecting ANE cosmology. It’s meant to communicate that God is the creator and that he is a God of order who amply provides for his creation. (This is in sharp contrast with other ANE gods and goddesses, who were capricious and arbitrary, and who demanded that humanity provide for them.)
    We’re informed right at the beginning that everything was “formless and void” (i.e. chaotic and empty). Then God proceeds to spend the first three days bringing it all into order, and then spends the next three days filling it. Thus, Day 4 is meant to correspond with Day 1, Day 5 with Day 2, and Day 6 with Day 3, following an a, b, c, a’, b’, c’, d pattern, with both sets ending with the creation of the ultimate goal, that being Life:
    a Day 1: God creates light and divides light from darkness
    b Day 2: God creates a firmament thus creating the seas and sky
    c Day 3: God creates land and vegetation (the lowest form of life)
    a’ Day 4: God creates the sun, moon, and stars
    b’ Day 5: God creates sea creatures and fowl
    c’ Day 6: God creates land animals and humanity (the highest form of life)

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree with you that Genesis 1 is poetry and that there is parallelism in its construction of days (the “stage set” is made in the first three days; the things that are actors on the stage–that is, the things that move, such as the moon, the animals, and humans–are made on the second three days).

      Genesis 1 nicely supports Shakespeare’s assertion that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

      The point of my post is to have a bit of fun skewering the literalist reading of Genesis 1: the scientific account of the moon’s origin cannot be logically squared with a literal reading of the biblical text; therefore, choose which book you will believe: the Book of Nature or the Book of God.


      • dcyates says:

        I understand your reason for the post, Santi, but just to be clear, the primary point of my response is to say that, ultimately, we don’t need to choose. It would be like demanding a choice between a poet’s declaration that “She walks in beauty like the night” and a podiatrist’s report that “She has fallen arches.”
        As I’ve stipulated previously, the apposite question then is: What kind of truth are you really after? If she indeed has fallen arches, well then obviously that’s important information to have. But for my money, the most important and profound truth is that “She walks in beauty like the night.”

  2. dcyates says:

    With regard to Theia striking Earth though, I would like to note that even here we can discern the creative and providential hand of God. As we see in the video, anywhere from 30 – 100 million years after Earth formed, this roughly Mars-sized planetoid collided with our planet at just the right spot where it tilted Earth on its axis at just the right angle (23.5 degrees relative to the plane of our orbit around the Sun) to give us our life-sustaining seasons. Much more or less and the changes in temperature would be simply too extreme for life.
    Additionally, geological evidence indicates that Theia also brought with it a simply huge amount of the elements uranium and thorium. In fact, research shows that because of this collision, Earth now contains at least 16,000 times more uranium than any other detected planet, and at least 23,000 times more thorium. These rather exact amounts are necessary for the Earth’s development of its electro-magnetic field, which, among other things, keeps our atmosphere from dispersing into space, as well as acting as a continual shield against the Sun’s frequent cosmic radiation blasts that would otherwise have rendered our planet a utterly barren wasteland.
    And speaking of the atmosphere, the impact of this collision also drove Earth’s early atmosphere into space and allowed a more life-friendly atmosphere to form and take its place. Theia also increased our mass to just the right size and brought us the balance of the water we needed.
    After striking Earth, again as we see in the video, its remains then drifted off to become our moon, which is also just the right size and at just the right distance away to give us the necessary tides to keep our oceans, seas, and lakes clean and life-sustaining. If our moon were just a little closer or bigger in size, the tides would be continuous tsunamis. On the other hand, if the moon were just a little further away or smaller, our oceans and seas would have become brackish and therefore hostile to life aeons ago.
    Theia also knocked the Earth into just the right orbit – called the “Sweet Spot” or the “Goldilocks” zone (or, less creatively, the habitability zone) – where if it were slightly farther from the Sun, it would be too cold, and much closer and the planet would be too hot. Suffice to say, I could go on and on. It’s all really quite incredible.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree with you that, if the Book of Nature is read literally and the Book of God is read figuratively, then there need be no logical contradiction. A metaphorical planet and a literal planet, obviously, cannot collide.

      But I do think that your privileged planet hypothesis is strained. Given that there are estimated to be a trillion galaxies in our known universe and that each of these galaxies has, on average, perhaps 400 million stars, it seems that coincidences very much like you describe, while implausible, must happen with some reasonable frequency, generating “long-living” planets with molten cores in habitable zones.

      I think that the complexities and coincidences associated with life’s existence (and the existence of minds) make for a stronger argument for intelligent design than planetary Goldilocks arguments (“Not too hot, not too cold, but just right . . .”).

      If God exists and likes planets, life, and minds, it seems implausible (to me) that (S)he would only make those things once. More plausible is that life and minds are, if not abundant, fairly common.

      I’m struck by how “Mormon” the actual universe we’ve discovered appears. The stars are far enough away from one another that each planetary system is essentially closed off from all the others. God could play the life and consciousness game in a lot of different ways without much of a chance that one game would intrude on the other.

      No, I’m not saying Mormonism is true–just pointing out a curiosity.


      • dcyates says:

        Yes, I believe you’re entirely correct, Santi, with your assertion that the absolutely astronomical odds against life arising from non-life by pure happenstance does indeed present a superior argument in favour of intelligent design (or, as far as I’m concerned, Intelligent design). My use of the “Goldilocks” scenario was not intended to constitute the game-ending knock out punch in my arsenal. 😉
        Re: your “curiosity.” Interesting. Given that, it seems more appropriate then that the next U.S. president be a Mormon, wouldn’t you say? (Again: ;-))

    • Longtooth says:


      You are obviously a believer in God and I’m assuming you are also a Christian. You are obviously also informed about the history of the earth and universe from the scientific perspective. You obviously also have an abiding affection for the Bible although elect to interpret at least Geneses allegorically, metaphorically, and or as poetry insofar as these terms might apply. I would be inclined to stereotype you as an evolutionary creationist or Christian Darwinist as distinguished from your literalist brothers and sisters who elect to treat the Bible as if it were deity itself. It is perplexing to me that in spite of the incontrovertible evidence in support of the ancientness of the universe and earth and of the reality of biological evolution they nevertheless elect to live in a state of religion motivated denial. They have become a powerful social force in America and quite noticeably in the sphere of public school education. I would like to ask you from you conservative perspective, what do you think of such blind faith religion and what do you envision, if anything, should be done to neutralize its pervasive encroachment upon the integrity of public education?


  3. dcyates says:

    Hi, Longtooth. Sorry for the delayed response. Yes, you’re correct in that I’m rather firmly convinced of the existence of God, and I believe the general Christian concept of God to be more correct than any of the others of which I’m aware. As well, although my affection for the Bible borders on obsession, I’m also sufficiently aware of the dangers of bibliolatry.
    However, because of that near-obsession, my passion is in seeing that the Bible be interpreted, and thus understood, as accurately as possible. (I’m afraid history is rife with examples of the unfortunate consequences of misinterpreting Scripture.) But I’m afraid pursuing this particular issue would take us way too far afield. So…
    I suppose if I had to label myself in this regard, I could go with ‘theistic evolutionist’. Nor do I shy away from the ID label. (Its opponents have done their darndest to turn it into a pejorative — and I think they have, to a significant degree, succeeded in doing so, but I would nonetheless still wear the label with a certain degree of pride. As I’ve mentioned previously, one simply cannot comprehend the incredibly complex workings of, for example, a functioning eye, and then declare, “There is no God,” and then make the claim that this is based on scientific observation.)
    And yes, I fully agree that religiously-motivated ignorance is certainly unfortunate. (But I would hasten to add that I don’t think it’s any more unfortunate than any other form of ideologically driven ignorance.) However, that said, perhaps it has simply to do with my being Canadian, but I have to ask — Are Christian fundamentalist ‘Young Earth’ creationists really all that influential within American public education? Are there really many — if any at all — public school boards anywhere in the U.S. where their science curricula includes any form of creationism? (I’m being sincere in my questions; perhaps there are and I just don’t know about them. That’s why I mention that I’m Canadian; it could be that, for that reason, I simply haven’t been sufficiently exposed to this.) I ask, because, to be honest, although I could be wrong, but even if there are genuine instances of this, I seriously can’t imagine that it could be legitimately described as “pervasive encroachment.”
    Nonetheless, I do share your frustrations concerning these people. Although I believe the vast majority of them to be sincere, I’m afraid to say that their anti-intellectualism provides those of an anti-Christian bent all too easy a target. And it becomes that much easier for these to then tar the rest of us with that same brush (if you’ll forgive my mixing metaphors).

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