Different perspectives on the days of Genesis

Over at Tough Questions Answered, they survey different views on the days of creation described in Genesis. Basically, there are two views: the young-earth creationist view, the old-earth creationist view. (Theistic evolution is nothing but atheism).

As my bio describes, I favor the old-earth view. I believe in micro-evolution (adaption to environment within different body plans), but I don’t believe that macro-evolution has been demonstrated in the fossil record or in the lab or in mathematical models of likely mutations and development parthways.

Christians are delighted to that the Bible is in agreement with what scientists have discovered about the origin of the universe, and it’s careful design to support the minimal requirements for complex life of any conceivable kind (given our physical laws and chemical diversity). But there is still one apparent disagreement between the Bible and science.

The apparent disagreement is that the book of Genesis describes the creation (asah, bara) of the earth as taking place in a series of days (yom). But there seems to be a tension between 6 24-hour days and a 4 billion year old earth. Are we stuck with a contradiction between science and Scripture here?

Here’s what TQA says:

The word yom can mean several things in Hebrew.  It can refer to a 24-hour period or it can refer to longer periods of time.  Which is the correct interpretation in Genesis 1?

In fact, Genesis 2:4 uses the word yom to describe the entire week of creation. And, St. Augustine, writing in the 5th century, interpreted the yoms of Genesis to be long periods of time, not 24-hour days. (And he also predicted the beginning of time at the creation).

For a solid scientific treatment that explains the possible meanings of yom and tries to reconcile it with what science tells us about the age of the earth, take a look at this paper by Dr. Walter Bradley of Baylor University.

Here is an excerpt that explains what the paper is about:

In this paper we would like to focus on the interpretation of the Hebrew words “yom” and “bara/asah” as they are used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the time frame and mechanism of creation. A careful examination of both biblical and scientific data will be summarized. A critique of the current models based on this data will be made leading to our summary of how at present we think one may best harmonize all of the available information.

I think there are solid young-earth creationists out there, like Paul Nelson and Marcus Ross, but I agree with Bradley and Augustine on this question.

One last thing – the dividing line between Christian and non-Christian views on this issue depends on how you answer this question: “Does nature, including the realm of biology, show signs of having being created and designed by an intelligent agent – signs that are independent of the religious beliefs of observers”.

Both young earth and old earth creationists answer “yes”. Yes, the universe shows signs of being programmed by an Engineer. Atheists and “theistic evolutionists” answer no, there universe was not programmed by an Engineer. Intelligent design people also answer “yes”, but their theory is strictly mathematics (probability theory). What Genesis says is not relevant to intelligent design.

20 thoughts on “Different perspectives on the days of Genesis”

    1. Behe believes that design is detectable in nature, and that naturalistic mechanisms cannot account for for the generation of specified complexity. His perspective is strictly intelligent design. No link to Christianity at all. I don’t think he is concerned about reconciling Genesis with science. My post is about people who try to reconcile Genesis with science. Behe isn’t trying to do that.

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  1. I would hesitate to call Behe a Theistic Evolutionist .. and I don’t think he would call himself that either …

    Theistic evolutionists are usually dead set against Behe’s Intelligent Design or creationism and side completely with the athiests on origins.

    Behe believes in evolution and common ancestry, but he also believes that we can find evidence of a design. Evidence that a designer/creator may have intervened at points in the evolutionary process.

    As I understand it .. Intelligent Design looks for scientific evidence of a designer/creator without regard to holy scripture or tradition… creationism looks for scientific evidence to support the creation scenario described in holy scritpture.

    Apparently there are also creationist researchers working from non christian traditions .. Judiasm, Islam, American Indian, etc.

    FWIW

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    1. Thanks for this comment. This is exactly my position, as well. The dividing line is: can we detect design in nature. Behe says yes. He is not an old-earth or young-earth creationist. His religion does not enter into his view. He is an intelligent design theorist. He infers what he infers on the basis of his published research, and there is no connection to his personal faith in that research. Period.

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  2. Though not a theistic evolutionist, I strongly disagree with the statement that theistic evolution is nothing but atheism.

    Theistic evolution as presented by conservative evangelicals is not just the idea that God guided the process of evolution. To most theistic evolutionists, God created the universe “fully gifted,” meaning that He created it with properties that would allow for self-organization and increasing sophistication of organisms over time. This still points to the Creator, as such a universe couldn’t have popped into existence on its own.

    It is one thing to disagree with this position; it is another thing entirely to equate it with atheism.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I maintain that theistic evolution is identical with atheism.

      They are the same because they give the same answers to two questions on origins.

      What is the difference between the two positions regarding these two questions:

      1) Is there evidence of the activity of an intelligent agent in nature, that is detectable by scientific means?
      2) Is it possible that a being who created and designed the universe could intervene in the history of life?

      There is NO DIFFERENCE between the two camps. And that is why TEs are functionally atheists. They do it to save their careers, and to avoid rocking the boat, in most cases.

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  3. Hmm, what would you say to the objection that Big Bang cosmology contradicts the genesis account of the sun, moon and stars being created after earth, though? Does this not point to the Bible being contradicted by scientific discoveries?

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    1. I would recommend that the person read “God and Time” and “The Genesis Question” by Hugh Ross. But he has newer books on it, too, that I haven’t read. I think they are called “More Than a Theory” and “A Matter of Days”.

      Or you can read this paper by Walter Bradley for free. That’s what I did when I was a young man! But I read Ross’ older books too.

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  4. I will check all those out in more detail, thanks!
    They look very interesting.

    I skimmed that paper by Walter Bradley, and the key point he seems to make is that the order described in Genesis 1 & 2 is possibly topical, not chronological. Yet, although this means that there is no absolutely explicit and necessary contradiction with science, I still think that it’s unlikely that that is what Moses had in mind when he wrote it. Of course you can find ways to wriggle free of almost any possible “contradiction” in any book, but if we’re being honest then I think it seems pretty clear that the Genesis account has a chronological order in mind.

    You can do all that you can to deny what Genesis is saying, but saying it’s metaphorical, then saying it’s topical not chronological, but why would God try and confuse us like that if he was telling us the creation account, the very first revelation of God’s Word? Surely it would be far more straightforward for God to do it chronologically, like any other person would do for clarity and to increase the coherence of the explanations.

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    1. What you’re saying is a good point, but I would recommend taking a look at Hugh Ross’ work. And remember, you don’t have to believe in inerrancy in order to be a Christian. I am, but you don’t have to be. Sorry if I am a bit snarky today.

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      1. Lol, no you’re not. I’m just raising some objections partly to be pedantic but partly to anticipate what my atheist friends might say. But yeah, I’ll add those to my huge reading list which I will never finish! haha ^^

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  5. Never mind how long a Yom is. Genesis describes night, day and vegetation as having existed before the sun. Women made from a man’s rib. An omnipotent being taking a rest. A tree of knowledge and a talking snake. Etc.

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    1. Not exactly. Genesis describes vegetation before the appearance of the sun, moon, etc. from the vantage point of an earthly observer, not from the vantage point of Apollo 11.

      In any case, just as mainly a lurker here, the issue is not Atheism vs. Christianity, as if attacking the latter will immediately benefit the former. (You don’t prove a fruit is an apple by disproving it’s an orange.) The issue is Atheism vs. Theism, so WK’s focus on those fundamental theistic questions is apropos. One step at a time. :-)

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      1. Genesis days are a question for Christians interpreting the Bible. For an atheist, the first task is to decide whether the entire physical universe popped into being uncaused out of nothing or not. If a person cannot be honest about that, there is no point bothering.

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  6. “Came into being” is misleading. We know the universe exists. We know spacetime has some sort of shape. We know it has some structure, and we call this causality. But to insist it has a cause is to insist that there is something outside it with the same properties.

    Oddly enough, science is starting to point to a multiverse. But still no hint of a necessary conscious creator. We don’t know what the laws of causality look like in the larger multiverse. But we certainly have no reason at all to believe there must be an uncaused first cause outside even that.

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  7. Incidentally, The talking snake et all really are problems. Genesis is competing with an infinite amount of other theories. To burden itself with talking snakes, women made from ribs, day and night before the sun etc does not exactly place it in poll position.

    OTOH, if Genesis had been a quick summary of inflationary cosmology, used 13.7 billion years rather than 6 days and had a brief explanation of the theory of evolution then that would be good reason to believe that it was written if not by God, then at least by some being more advanced than Iron age man.

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