As a child living in Brighton, I’d often explore the marina with its huge variety of boats, from fully rigged schooners to luxury yachts. My favourite discovery was a large catamaran called Quasar – a really cool name when this type of star had only just been discovered. I heard that it was owned by one of the most hip and with-it people of the time: Carl Sagan. Even if you’ve never heard of him, you’ll know a saying he popularised: “We all come from stardust.”
It is an important maxim for all Christian apologists because it helps explain why God made such a big universe: life can’t start until a whole generation of stars have lived and died and a new generation have formed.
This is because all the interesting heavy atoms that are needed for life – like carbon, iron and phosphorus – are only made within larger stars. When those stars die in a supernova explosion, these elements become interstellar dust. Gravity gradually draws this dust together to form new stars surrounded by planets made from these elements that can support life. Cosmologists have concluded that our universe is just the right size – a smaller or larger one would collapse before the second generation of stars could form. This means that every galaxy in the universe is necessary for life to exist on even one planet.
In Genesis, all this occurs in the measureless time of the first two verses when God was making the heavens and the earth. So the dust from which God created Adam was indeed stardust. Of course the dust in Genesis 2:7 referred primarily to soil. Whereas the ancient Sumerian myth from 3000 BC said that the gods made men from clay in order to be their servants, Genesis says instead that there’s only one God, and he made the first human to have a relationship with him and to enjoy life in a perfect environment.
The first man
While it defines God’s purpose in creating us, Genesis also reminds us that humans are made of mere ‘dust’ – a mixture of a few elements which God created in order to make us. The Bible continually reminds us where we come from and leaves us with the sobering thought that we will also return to dust (Job 10:9; 34:15; Psalm 90:3; 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; 12:7). We are not just dust in the sense that our parents are made of dust, we also grow by eating dust; that is, we eat animals and plants which grow from dust. Our bodies are made of the same elements that Adam’s body was made from. So yes – it really is true! Ultimately we all come from stardust!
But how exactly did God make Adam from dust? Perhaps we envisage that he moulded him from clay? Or that he snapped his fingers over a pile of dust? The first readers of Genesis may have thought so, but we have the perspective of the rest of the Bible and of human discovery. When the Bible says that we are made of dust, it refers to a long process – millennia of generations eating food grown from soil, going back to our first ancestor, Adam. So when it describes Adam being made from dust, perhaps this too refers to a long period. Perhaps it includes the formation of stars and planets leading up to the creation of Adam. In other words, God didn’t make Adam as an afterthought; he started making Adam when he created the first stars that were destined to explode into stardust.
This helps us to see the glorious message of Genesis. It tells us that humans are the whole purpose and aim of creation. God didn’t just create the earth to be our home; he first of all created the whole universe to be our planet’s womb. For humans to exist, God needed to first construct a universe with enough galaxies to continue existence long enough for generations of stars to grow, to die, to explode, and to regrow with planets made of complex elements. On one of those planets God could make life. The message of Genesis is that the whole of creation was part of God’s plan to make us.
Every galaxy in the universe is necessary for life to exist on even one planet
Now that we have discovered thousands of planets around nearby stars, we should assume that the universe has trillions of planets. Genesis doesn’t tell us that our planet is the only place where God made humans or that humans are the only intelligent life that he has made. In his Space Trilogy books, CS Lewis bravely imagined that God populated other planets. I can’t oppose this idea from the Bible, though it pierces my pride a bit because it makes humans seem a little less significant. The important truth is that God knows us all as individuals, so no single person will be less significant in God’s eyes, however many types of people he made. If there are other planets with intelligent life, this will only make us less unique as a species – not as individuals – and I can live with that.
Science can never discover the reason or purpose behind the universe, so God has had to make himself known to us by other means – the Bible. It tells us that he lovingly created a womb for our home planet and then, when the planet was full of life, he revealed himself to us. Despite knowing that most of us would reject him, he even joined us briefly as a human in order to deal with the sin that destroyed our relationship with him. I think we have only one reasonable response: to try to know him and live for him. Because we aren’t just made from stardust – we are made from stardust by God, and for a purpose.