Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Did God Really Create the Universe in Six Days?

In my Old Testament Survey class this week we are studying the book of Genesis, so naturally the issue came up about how to properly interpret Genesis 1 and 2.  Does the Bible really teach that the earth and the rest of the universe was created only thousands of years ago within the span of six 24-hour days, or can the Bible be interpreted to match findings of modern science which indicate that the universe is much older?

Personally, I am convinced that the Bible clearly teaches that the earth and the universe are relatively young, and that all of creation was made and formed by God in six 24-hour days.  The topic can only be discussed briefly in a blog post, but the following are some of my thoughts on the topic based on a class syllabus that I developed for my church last year.
Did God Really Create the Universe in 6 Days?
Genesis 1 & 2

The creation narratives are some of the most controversial passages in the Old Testament, even among believers. Should they be taken at face value or can they be expanded to accommodate modern scientific theories? Is the earth relatively young or extremely old? There are godly, born-again Christians on both sides of this issue.

There are 3 main views held by Christians:

1) Scientific Creationism (Young Earth): God created the world and all its creatures through supernatural intervention in six, 24-hour days.

2) Progressive Creationism (Old Earth): God created the world and all its creatures through supernatural intervention, but this intervention happened in stages spread over a long period of time.

3) Evolutionary Creationism (Old Earth): God created the world and all its creatures using macro-evolutionary processes over a long period of time.
Here are some of the arguments used on both sides of the issue:

OLD EARTH - Evidence for Interpreting Genesis 1 & 2 as Metaphorical and/or Poetic:
     a. The structure and flow of Genesis 1:1-2:3 has elements of poetry and differs from strictly narrative passages elsewhere in Genesis. This allows us to interpret this passage as poetry (including metaphors and other figures of speech) instead of as narrative.
     b. The word “day” in Hebrew (yom) can be used to refer to longer periods of time than a 24-hour period (cf. Gen. 2:4), similar to how “day” is used in English: “Only one more day until the weekend” vs. “Back in my day, we did things differently.”
     c. Genesis 1 & 2 were not intended to be scientific explanations about creation but to teach a theological truth that God is the Creator and that He alone should be worshiped.
     d. Scientific fact should influence our interpretation of Genesis 1 & 2 and other biblical texts. For example, the evidence of age (such as starlight) indicate that the universe is extremely old, so “day” in Genesis 1 & 2 cannot describe a literal week. Also, there are animals and insects which were created with aggressive, carnivorous characteristics and which need to kill other creatures to survive, therefore there must have been death on the earth before the first sin (cf. Rom. 5:12).

YOUNG EARTH - Evidence for Interpreting Genesis 1 & 2 as strictly literal, 24 hour days:
     a. The use of the phrase “evening and morning” in Genesis 1 indicates that “day” should be understood as referring to 24-hour periods.  The text itself is indicating that it is referring to a literal day.
     b. In Exodus 20:8-11, Moses uses God’s resting on the seventh day of creation as a reason why the Israelites should rest on the seventh day of every week. He makes no indication that the Creation Week was anything longer than a normal week.  In fact, he implies that the Creation Week was exactly as long as any other week.
     c. Jesus Himself taught that the world and mankind were created at approximately the same time. In Mark 10:6, Jesus indicates that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of creation. In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus implies that Abel was murdered close to the time of the foundation of the world. [For more on this topic, see the helpful essay by Terry Mortenson, "Jesus' View of the Age of the Earth," published in Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), pp. 315-346.]
     d. Genesis 1 & 2 clearly indicate that the universe was created with the appearance of age.  God clearly did not create a baby Adam and a baby Eve ... they could walk, talk, work, and relate to one another.  The same principle holds true with the animal world, plant life, the sun, the stars, and the rest of creation.  If Adam and Eve were created with the appearance of age, then why couldn't starlight be created already in motion and already reaching the earth?
     e. Genesis 1 & 2 refer to a pre-fallen world (a world before man had sinned) and it was different than the world available for us to observe today. There was no death (Rom. 5:12) and even carnivorous creatures ate plants (Gen. 1:29-30). Thus, the modern world that scientists observe does not operate under all the same principles that were in place before the sin entered the picture.  Modern scientific observations about the animal kingdom (such the carnivorous nature of some animals) should not be allowed to trump a literal reading of the text.

In the end, it boils down to this question:

How much should science influence our interpretation of scripture?

Personally, I am content to let the scriptures guide my understanding of the world rather than let modern experts convince me to contradict a clear teaching found in scripture.  So I am convinced that Scientific Creationism has the best interpretation of scripture.

For further information on this topic, I encourage you to visit the resources posted at  Photo courtesy of NASA Visible Earth.