Both secular science and the Scriptures state that man was formed from dust. The big bang theory, more or less, holds that planet earth and all its life forms developed from stardust, while the biblical account states that man was formed by God from the dust of the earth, which he also created (and woman from the rib of Adam). And in yet another similarity, both worldviews state that man returns to dust. What is the difference, and why is it important?

In Isaiah 40:12, centuries before the physical sciences even conceived of these phenomena, Isaiah said that God “has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales” (emphasis added).

Genesis 1–2 tells us that living things, human beings included, were made of dust of the ground.And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul(Genesis 2:7). And out of the ground, God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man (Genesis 2:19). After the fall of man through sin (Genesis 3:17), the Lord God sent man out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken (Genesis 3:23).

The Hebrew word for dust in Genesis 2:7 is aphar (Strong’s #6083): clay, earth, mud, ashes, earth, ground, mortar, powder, rubbish. You will see in this list a common word we can associate to dust: clay. The term clay refers to a naturally occurring material composed primarily of fine-grained minerals, which is generally plastic (moldable, stretchable) when hydrated and will harden when dried or fired.1 Did the Lord God use water with the dust to form man? We can’t be sure, but Genesis 2:6 says water was present: “But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

Mankind is God’s workmanship. We are like clay in the hands of the Master Potter (Isaiah 64:8), who is molding us according to His purpose. Two Old Testament prophets, Isaiah (Isaiah 64:8) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:1–4), provide the illustration of the potter and the clay. Jeremiah saw the clay being shaped and molded into a vessel. When an imperfection in the clay spoiled the vessel, the potter crumbled it up and began the process of shaping the clay again into a vessel that pleased him. In the New Testament, Paul also refers to the pottery theme (Romans 9:21–23).

Did God just use dust or clay to create man?

A. E. Wilder Smith wrote, “The necessary information to build man does not reside in the few elements it takes to compose him.”2 God breathed into man the breath of life. The terms Spirit and breath, in reference to God’s, are often used interchangeably. God’s breath is His Spirit. God exhaled His breath into the body that He had formed, giving man not only an earthly origin but a divine one. And man’s physical nature cannot merely be explained by the components that he/she can be reduced to in a science lab, because man includes genetic information. Genetic information cannot rise spontaneously, nor does matter itself operate itself into organizing itself into higher levels of complexity (functioning systems, tissues, bones, organs).3 Answers in Genesis online has more information on “Genetics and Biblical events”,4 and also the complexity of human DNA. It’s not the elements (“dust”) that we’re made of that makes a human; it’s the way we’re put together, it’s not the “dust” that makes life, but the way it’s put together with purposeful design and complex organization. Gary Parker explains the orderly and complex human design phenomena thus:

If [cells] are continually supplied with the right kind of energy and raw materials, and if all 75-plus of the RNA and protein molecules required for DNA-protein “translation” are present in the right places at the right times in the right amounts with the right structure, then cells make proteins by using DNA’s base series . . . [Thus,] living things operate in understandable ways that can be described in terms of scientific laws—but, such observations include properties of organization that logically imply a created origin of life. . . . [T]here are many more levels of order than I had once imagined and that order in nature, and a mind in tune with it, were guaranteed by God Himself.5

How do the different elements in the body compare with those found on the earth?

Specific elements play critical roles in the structures of proteins and the activities of enzymes in the human body. The table below outlines some of the uses of elements in humans6 and in the soil which forms the crust of the earth.7 Soils (including clay) contain dissolved minerals which are incorporated and stored by plants for our consumption or eaten by an animal that we later consume. The most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust are oxygen (46.6%) and silicon (27.7%). Minerals that combine these two elements are called silicates, which are the most abundant minerals on the Earth. Eight main elements account for more than 98 percent of the crust’s composition. The earth’s crust contains most of the mineral nutrients our body requires. Oxygen is the most abundant element in both the human body and the earth’s crust. The human body is made up almost entirely of 13 elements. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen make up 96% of our body’s mass. The other 4% of body weight is composed almost entirely of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine, and iodine. Silicon as an element in the human body (less than one percent) is not as prevalent as it is in the earth’s crust; however we require this small amount of silicon for bone development, and it is found in skin and connective tissue. Silicon dissolves in water and can be abundant in oceans and nearly all other waters. Microscopic single-celled algae, called diatoms, and some brown (Phaeophycota) and green (Pediastrum boryanum) algae require silica to build their cell walls.8 So we can see that the composition of living things is not simply a mirror image of the elements available to them.

Major Elements
Found in the Human Body
(Chemical Symbol)

Abundances of Elements in the Earth’s Crust
(Approximate % by weight)

Oxygen (O) 61%
Vital role in breathing and metabolism. Nutrient compounds, inside of the cell, are oxidized through complex enzymatic processes.

46.6

Carbon (C) 23%
Virtually every part of the body is made up of molecules based around carbon chains.

0.03

Hydrogen (H) 10%
Critical component of water and other hydrogen bonds. Stomach acid (hydrogen and chlorine) allows digestion, therefore absorption of elements. Many chemical reactions that make life possible involve the hydrogen ion.

0.14

Nitrogen (N) 2.6%
Your body digests Nitrogen and makes it into energy. Nitrogen can be obtained from eating plants or from animals that eat plants (herbivores).

0.005

Calcium (Ca) 1.4%
Structure of bone and teeth.

3.6

Phosphorous (Ph) 1.1%
Structure of bone and teeth. Rebuilding of red blood cells.

0.13

Potassium (K) .20%
Major electrolyte of blood and cellular fluid. Required for maintenance of pH and nervous system.

2.6

Sulfur (S) .20%
Element of the essential amino acids.

0.03

Sodium (Na) .14%
Major electrolyte of blood and cellular fluid. Required for maintenance of pH and water balance. Vital to the transmission of impulses from our brains to muscles.

2.8

Chlorine (Cl) .12%
Major electrolyte of blood and cellular fluid. Balance of pH and water.Used in balancing electrical charges in nervous system.

0.005

Magnesium (Mg) .027%
Important in bone structure.

2.1

Silicon (Si) .026%
Essential nutrient for healthy bone metabolism.

27.7

Trace Elements

 

Iron (Fe) .006%
Contained in blood, required for oxygen transport.

5

Fluorine (F) .0037%
Helps the body strengthen the bones and teeth.

0.08

Copper (Cu) .0001%
Contained in enzymes, which regulate iron transport.

0.01

Zinc (Zn) .0033%
Growth and repair of tissues. Required for DNA binding. Creation, release, and use of hormones. Sight, taste, and smell depend on zinc.

Trace

Aluminum (Al) .00008%
Involved in the action of a few enzymes.

8.1

Manganese (Mn) .00002%
Supports the immune system, regulates blood sugar, involved in the production of energy and cell reproduction. Deficiency can lead to improper bone formation.

0.10

Iodine (I) .00002
Used in production of thyroxine which plays an important role in metabolic rate.

Trace

Selenium (Se) .00002%
Helps our immune system produce antibodies, keeps the pancreas and heart functioning properly. Needed to make our tissues elastic.

Trace

Molybdenum (Mo) .000007%
Assists the processing of iron and nitrogen.

Trace

Chromium (Cr) .00002%
A cofactor in the regulation of sugar levels.

0.01

Cobalt (Co) .000004%
Contained in vitamin B12 which is necessary for the formation of all cells, especially red blood cells.

Trace

What about claims that life on earth was created from stardust?

The Bible says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God created the moon and the stars on Day 4 (Genesis 1:14–19) before man (Day 6). The scientific explanation of the creation of our solar system and planet is an immense topic. You can read more about the biblical origin of the solar system in Evolution Exposed, chapter 3.9 The following is a brief description of the secular view of the formation of the universe and of the earth according to the nebular hypothesis from that chapter:

No scientists have observed the random beginning of our universe. But according to secular scientists, as the universe slowed and cooled, hydrogen, helium, and small amounts of lithium were formed from the energy released after the “big bang”. These gases gathered into nebulae which then gave birth to stars and planets. As the early stars produced energy through nuclear fusion, heavier elements (heavier than iron) formed and were eventually scattered into the universe after the stars exploded (supernovas). These scattered heavier elements accumulated in the universe over billions of years. Our solar system allegedly began as a nebulae that began to spin and collapse due to gravity. As the nebulae spun faster and faster, a star began to form and a disk of dust and gases surrounded the star. Planets (like earth) began to slowly form as the dust particles stuck to one another. Pre-planets formed close to the center of the disk containing the rocky elements like iron and silica. Over billions of years, the pre-planets supposedly collided with one another or stuck together through gravitational attraction. As the collisions continued, the planets were completed.

Not only does this scenario not follow the creation account in the book of Genesis, a doctor of chemistry points out that:

No one has ever detected ice-coated dust grains sticking together in this manner. Imagine the number of dust grains that would have to collide and stick together in order to form a sphere as large as a golf ball, never mind one as large as the Earth — which is over 8,000 miles (13,000 km) in diameter.10

How and why do we return to dust?

Humans are connected to the earth. Both were created by God. Man is composed of the dust of the earth, and, because we presently live in a fallen world, man’s body is reduced to dust again in death. Earthly death is not an obliteration of man (1 Corinthians 15), but a bringing of his corruptible body back to its original composition (“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou returnGen 3:19 KJV).

God provided our earth as our primary life-support system, supplying our basic biological needs of minerals, water, and air. When proper balance and organization of these components are lost, or denied to us, our bodies return to “dust.” We finish in the simple matter we started from. Just as other created objects break down into their simpler parts when left to the ravages of time, chance, and chemistry,7 so do our bodies.

Clay as a scriptural allegory

God desires to finish the work of His hands (Philippians 1:6). Charles Spurgeon summarizes the potter’s wheel as a wheel of circumstances continually revolving. Men—vessels of clay—are placed upon it, but they are not all formed alike. There are some men who yield to God’s conforming of them to His Son (Romans 8:29), and there are sadly many others who reject the Master Potter. There are outlines in the clay just like lines on a painted vase.

[The first outline is]—faith in Christ. . . . [N]ext . . . is love for Christ. It is only the bare outline . . . for the glory which excels is not there yet. The vase is only in its embryo, but yet sufficiently developed to give a[n insight] of its finished form; but as for the [designs and images] that shall be inlaid, as for all the various colours that shall be used upon it, you cannot guess as yet, nor could you, unless you could climb up to the potter’s seat and see the plan upon which he looks as the clay revolves upon the wheel.11

An 18th century Bible scholar, Matthew Henry, has a similar view:

As man was made out of the earth, so he is maintained and supported by that which cometh out of the earth [minerals, nutrients, water]. Take away that, and his body [will cease] returns to its earth. . . . [T]he souls of men dwell in houses of clay: such the bodies of men are . . an earthen vessel, soon broken, as it was first formed, according to the good pleasure of the potter12 As light was the beginning of the first creation; so . . . in the new creation, the illumination [light] of the Spirit is His first work upon the soul.13

Do we know when the Master Potter’s work is done? Remember, Adam and Eve weren’t originally designed to die; they could have lived forever in perfect fellowship with God. When sin entered the world, death came (Romans 6:23). However, because of God’s love for us, He developed a way to restore us to Him. By the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the way to heaven was opened for us. The apostle Paul tells us about how our bodies will be reborn once they die, and how our bodies are only a seed in the ground that will be transformed (1 Corinthians 15:35–54). Through this resurrection, the work of His creation in us will be finished.

It is extremely difficult to discuss only the technical and elemental aspects that are incorporated into our bodies without discussing the spiritual breath that was used in our creation. In conclusion two poems are provided as a humble attempt of representing God’s spiritual component in us. First, in the Book of Psalms, the sacred book of poetry, songs, and hymns, we find King David’s insightful comforting words:

For He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust . . . But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children, with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts (Psalm 103: 14–18).

And since David’s time in the 11th century BC. the same questions and insights of ourselves as God’s continual creation still apply. The words and ideas of the following 20th century poem were combined by two Christian friends united in Christ’s Holy Spirit. One artist and teacher (Diane Peacock) expressed her thoughts to her friend, gifted author (Mary Lauzon), who then crafted the poem:

STILL HIS

When God delivers us
into this world,
we are not yet fully formed.
like a blob of clay
we are wet and gooey,
too soft to stand,
too unformed to make a statement.

He delivers us
into human hands,
those who take our exterior
and gently smooth and form us,
and sometimes those
who press too hard,
who compress our being,
who reach in too far and distort us.

The look we desire for ourselves
is sometimes pinched away
by those who carelessly carve and chisel
and at puberty we’re baked
into a hardened form,
lopsided. Steep sides, narrow neck,
we cry out, as we emerge from the kiln,
“Is this what you intended?”

As adults, stiff and sore
from all the previous molding,
we crack, chip
and are sometimes given another stint
on the potter’s wheel
We whirl and churn
Not knowing who we’re becoming
or why. We know we’re no
Raku original.

At times the glaze
Of human hands on our lives

Gives us another appearance.
We moan, complain.

It’s rarely a look we want.

We forget the original artist.
We forget the one who formed us from dirt,
who had his hand on us first,

who placed his original print
on the underside of our soul.
We are more than decorative.
And if we took time each day
to tip ourselves over
we’d see the engraved print of his finger
standing in relief, marking us as his,
marking us as godly original.

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Footnotes

  1. Guggenheim, S., R. T. Martin 1995. Definition of clay and clay mineral; joint report of the AIPEA nomenclature and CMS nomenclature committees. Clays and Clay Minerals 43, no. 2:255–256. Back
  2. Wilder-Smith, A. E. 2002. Biography and Media Library, online at www.wildersmith.org/library.htm Back
  3. Paturi, J. 1998. The Human Body—God’s Masterpiece. Creation 20, no. 4:54–55. Back
  4. Nelson, C. W. 2003. Genetics and Biblical Demographic Events TJ (now Journal of Creation) 17, no. 1:21–23. Back
  5. Parker, Gary. Creation: Facts of Life The Origin of Life: DNA and Protein. Back
  6. The Role of Elements in Life Processes, online at http://www.mii.org/periodic/LifeElement.html Back
  7. Lutgens, Frederick K. and Edward J. Tarbuck. 2000. Essentials of Geology, 7th Ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Back (1) Back (2)
  8. Schwartz, Marjorie F. 1977. Silica Metabolism in Non-Diatomic Algae. Bios 48, no. 1:3–12. Back
  9. Patterson, R. 2010. Evolution Exposed: Earth Science. Chapter 3: Origin of the Solar System. Back
  10. White, A. J. Monty. 2001. Proof of Life Evolving in the Universe? Back
  11. Spurgeon, C. H. 2009. Sermon 327. Vessels Of Mercy. Back
  12. Henry, Matthew. Exposition of the Old and New Testament, Volume 2. Commentary on Job 4.
    Blue Letter Bible. Online at www.blueletterbible.org Back
  13. Henry, Matthew. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4. Blue Letter Bible. Online at www.blueletterbible.org Back
  14. Lauzon, Mary Elizabeth. “Still His.” Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Unpublished work reproduced with permission.