First, the primordial cosmos: the earth was “without form and void”. This is not something other than matter. (You actually can’t imagine something other than matter. Even when you imagine energy, you create a picture drawn from visible aspects of matter.)
What God made was, rather, unorganized matter. The language suggests “random” – the only apophatic concept we own, meaning “without pattern”. Notice, this first stage of creation has no moral color. Which is surprising, since we are inclined to sense randomnity as ominous. (Our bias is born from the threat to life, limb and fortune humans feel in random events.) It is not bad, it is just not done. Later, when God says it is “good”, His first known value judgement, it is not because He fixed something bad, but because he finished His science project. So there are degrees of good before the Fall, and this spectrum of goods is far wider than a mere nuance. No, the movement from starting a work to finishing that work offers full joy; Fall and Redemption do not add any depth to God’s experience.
There is no reason to think the ensuing drama wipes out these first categories: the Beginning, the Good, and the Very Good. Humankind imposes an alien meme, the Bad, which obscures but does not obliterate the first pattern of joys.
During Creation Week God organized the stuff on a macro scale by adding light, and atmosphere, and history, trigonometry, and bugs. Light, alone, would flip a switch making the heavens and earth into a self sustaining machine and would energize the chemical substrate. Physics can fill in the rest. (I’m not interested in connecting the text with what our instruments see, but in seeing what is in the text.)
There is no reason to think this work obliterated or exhausted the primordial and formless stuff, which was not evil or needing cleansing (sorry, Manichees), but just needed organizing. I believe we still see this original stuff with eyes and augmented eyes.
When we look at the night sky we see a stamp of “design”, which the biblical writers sing of, but their vision of Yahweh’s mark on creation is not what we usually mean by “design”, which is something like “handmade pattern indicating a purpose”. Rather, they see size, scale, and pretty lights. Art for art’s sake.
The fabrication of the Garden, later, will reveal that this Creation, whatever it looked like, though it is “very good”, has no clear human purpose, except as raw material for a further ordering. So even before the Fall there were at least two strata in the created universe that were not meant to look “designed”, even to unfallen human perception. If you could transport back in time to the moment when God cried “very good!” and startled the great cranes from their brakes, you would not see anything with a purpose. You would see pretty. You would not see architectonics. Yahweh’s aesthetic is remarkably childish, or child-like.
Now we come to the Garden. Pre-fall Eden seems to mean little to Christians except that it evokes nostalgia for their tropical vacations. Meanwhile we argue with the evil evolutionists about design in the natural world. But Eden is crucial for grasping what God did and why. The distinction between the garden and the wide world is precisely the degree of apparent order. And, in this context, the word “order” means something like “pleasant to humans”. It was an island of suitableness within the infinite ocean of the Creation, which was itself on top of, or imposed on, the deep layer of formless stuff. The idea was probably that the Garden would grow and take over all the Creation, which of course never happened. So the Garden was the one place visibly designed by God for humans, and only there. We do not perceive this Divine design now. A flaming sword has been set at its door. So – the created “order” we do perceive now is a level of order that God thought was very good but not yet particularly suitable for humans.
4. The Creation, fallen. Whatever degree of design the original creation displayed — something less than what God had in mind for us — must be broken down now, to some unknown degree. And our vision is also broken. So we actually are looking through 3 or 4 dark glasses.
I realize I am speculating here. The point is not to nail all this down into creedal clarity. The point is that the concept “design” is used by biblicist culture-warriors as if it means one precise thing. It is either “evidence of design” or, I guess, “evolved by chance”. I find this dichotomy laughably simplistic — from a biblically literalist point of view. In contrast, the biblical concept of design is richly nuanced, and not nearly mined, to date. We do the biblical picture great trauma by talking about it so superficially.
Those of us who aren’t so certain to argue that we see “design” in the physical universe are often looked down on by our more dogmatic brethren. As if we don’t really believe the Word. Not so; we just see more in it than you, and see more that we don’t clearly see. It’s hard to fight over something you know you aren’t seeing clearly.