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Problems With Day-Age Interpretation of Genesis

The other day, I did something that maybe I shouldn't have. I struck up a conversation with a couple co-workers about Intelligent Design. We kept it friendly enough. They already know my religious/scientific opinions, and I already knew theirs, so there weren't any heated arguments. I was just interested to see how fundamentalists felt about Intelligent Design, and about the judge's decision in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Board of Education case.

Here's why I was curious to their opinion. It seems to me that if you're going to reject evolution on religious (Christian) grounds, it's because you believe in basically a literal interpretation of the Bible. i.e. that the creation story in Genesis is accurate. If you don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (i.e. you believe in a figurative, allegorical, historical or some other interpretation), then there shouldn't be any religious reason to reject evolution. So I wondered, if you hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, what would be your take on Intelligent Design? A lot of the ID proponents claim that ID is really science, and that they're just trying to point out evidence of an intelligent designer. They stress that they're not trying to support the Bible. Further, some of the evidence that they use goes against a strictly literal interpretation of Genesis, such as using the Cambrian "Explosion" of 500 million years ago. Really, it makes me wonder why ID is so popular. It's bad science, as evidenced by its overwhelming rejection by the scientific community (not just lack of acceptance, which would characterize most new theories, but actual rejection), and, from a fundamentalist viewpoint, it's bad religion, because it's counter to a 6 day creation.

So, when I brought it up to those co-workers that ID goes against a literal interpretation of Genesis because it allows for the Earth being billions of years old, they got kind of wishy washy on the age of the Earth. Their reply was something to the effect of, "A day in the life of God is like a thousand years to man," so how can we be sure how long the days in Genesis actually were. My first thought was, wow, so the Bible's only literal when it's convenient; otherwise, it's open to interpretation. But then I decided to look into it a little further. Maybe there was something to their line of argument. After a little research, I found people who said that in the original Hebrew, the word used for "day" in Genesis could be translated as either day or age, and that maybe age was the word that should be used there. This, or the day to a thousand years argument my coworkers used, actually turn out to be pretty popular arguments. So, I went back and took another look at Genesis, and, well, these day-age interpretations just don't make any more sense.

More below the fold.

Just for reference, here's a link to the first book of Genesis on BibleGateway.com. If you don't like the New International Version, you can find another version on their site.

So on the first day, God creates a light, which he calls day, and a dark, which he calls night. I really have no idea what the Bible's referring to, here, since it's not day and night in the conventional sense. The light of day is the sunlight that shines onto the side of the Earth that happens to be facing the sun at that particular time, and the darkness of night occurs on the side of the Earth that's in the shadow. Since Genesis doesn't say the sun is created until the fourth day, I don't know what this day and night refer to. But let's move on.

On the second day, God creates the sky "to separate water from water." Once again, I'm confused. What waters does the sky separate? At this point, Genesis seems to indicate that the Eart is coverred by one vast ocean, so that's one body of water. But what other water is this being separated from? Is there some vast body of water floating around in space somewhere? Maybe it's referring to clouds. I don't know, so I'll move on to the next day.

Finally, on the third day, Genesis starts talking about things that I can understand. First God creates the continents, or at least "land." Now that there's land to work with, he creates seed bearing plants and fruit bearing trees. There's no explicit mention of any other types of plants anywhere else in Genesis, so I think it would be safe to assume that this third day of creation accounts for all of the plants. Remember, the sun still won't be created until the fourth day, so there's still no sunlight for these plants to use for photosynthesis. And there's no mention yet of any animals being created, including insects, so there's no way for flowering plants to reproduce through insect pollination, or for certain other plants to reproduce which require that their seeds pass through the digestive system of an animal, first.

On the fourth day, God finally creates the sun, the moon, and the stars, so now the plants can survive, and the Earth can have a proper day and night.

On the fifth day, God created all of the birds, and all of the creatures of the sea. Now, there's finally some type of animal to distribute seeds. If flying insects are counted as birds, there are finally bees and other insects to pollinate flowers.

On the sixth day, God created all of the "livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals." Also on the sixth day, God created people.

So, if you try to interpret Genesis as the days being ages of indeterminate time, you're still left with problems. If plants were created in the third age, and the sun in the fourth age, unless the ages were extremely short, the creating must have taken place right at the end of the third, and right at the beginning of the fourth ages, or else the plants would all die. Which I suppose is possible, but there's still a big problem of many of the plants not being able to reproduce which are dependent on animals for pollination, germination, or seed dispersal. This would seem to indicate that the fourth age, you know, the one where 99.99% of the material in the universe was created, would have had to have been very short, indeed. If the wording is supposed to be somewhat consistent, such that each "day" or "age" represents a similar amount of time, this presents a big problem with each day representing millions or billions of years.

If you're trying to use a day-age interpretation to try and reconcile Genesis with science, there are many errors with the Biblical account. First, Earth was certainly not the first celestial body, and our sun was certainly not the first star. Also, birds did not come before land dwelling animals. Even if you still want to question the bird-dinosaur link, there's no question in science that birds evolved from land animals.

So, the day-age theory, or "a day in the life of God is like a thousand years to man" interpretations, are just weak. Even ignoring what science tells us of the evolution of life on Earth, and the history of the universe as far as star and planet formation, there would have been no way for plants to survive an entire age without having the sun for photosynthesis, or the animals that they required for pollination, germination, and seed dispersal.

Now, if you stop and look at Genesis as being written by a scientifically primitive society with no idea of the true history of the Earth and its animals...

Comments

The day refers to Good and the Night refers to Evil. In other words, God created a balance of good and evil.

Also when the bible says Create, it means that this is a process. For example on the 4th day, God completes his creation of the Sun and other planets. Therefore, he was performing many tasks at one time. One task might have took 500 or 600 more years to create.

Will,

I'm sure you can guess from the rest of my site that I'm skeptical of your interpretation. But, I don't want to be hostile - I really would be interested if you would give a further interpretation.

I didn't include quotes of the actual scriptures in the original essay, so I'll do that here in this comment. Let's start at the first day of creation.

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

According to your interpretation, this "day" and "night" were "Good" and "Evil." So, since the darkness came first, that means that God created evil first, right? Or could it be, as I've heard somewhere before, that evil isn't an actual thing, just a lack of good. Also, what do evening and morning represent, since it clearly has nothing to do with actual days, if light and dark represent good and evil.

6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

Could you please explain your interpretation of this to me, because I really don't understand it at all. Perhaps it's something symbolic, and I'm just missing the symbolism.

I guess the first point is what is even meant by "sky." I find it very easy to imagine a primitive people looking up, and imagining an actual discrete physical dome above their heads. That could even explain why they thought it was covered in water (it is blue, after all, and rain does fall from up there). But in reality, "sky" is just some fuzzy notion of the atmoshere at some arbitrary height above the ground. Think about it this way - we know that airplanes fly through the sky, but when exactly do they get there? Immediately after takeoff? 100 feet up? 30,000 feet? It's not clearly defined.

Okay, I'll chalk that issue up to translation. I don't know Hebrew, so I can't read the original version (or at least, the copies we have, since the actual originals are long gone). Maybe the Hebrew word for "sky" doesn't have the same ambiguity as English. However, I still don't understand what's being separated. Maybe I'm being too literal, but I'm trying to figure out some way that this passage means actual separation of one group of H2O molecules from another group of H2O molecules. The day I originally wrote this blog post, I was being charitable, and said that maybe it was referring to clouds being separated from the ocean. However, the more I think about that explanation, the less sense it makes. Water is not present in the atmosphere only in the clouds - water vapor is present from ground level all the way up. It's just that at some point it gets cold enough for that vapor to start condensing - the altitude that clouds begin to form at. Also, before claiming that it's liquid water the passage is referring to, not vapor, remember that depending on conditions, that altitude at which water condenses can vary, all the way down to ground level, in fact. It's just that we call that fog.

So, I'm still wondering what waters the sky separates. If this, too, is symbolic, I'd like to hear what it symbolizes.

9 And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

So on the third day, land and plants were created. I'll come back to this.

14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Okay, now on the fourth day, the sun exists. I still have my objection from the original blog entry. If the days are actually ages, or as you state, "One task might have took 500 or 600 more years to create," how did the plants that were created on the third day survive without the sun? Also, where are the hummingbirds, bees, and other animals necessary to pollinate the flowers?

I also find it interesting, now that we know that well over 99.99% of the universe is outside this solar system, that so much of the universe was created on that one day.

20 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, [b] and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Okay, ignoring the actual history of life on this planet, the rest of the story could be read in a literal sense. However, if you're going to see some words as symbolic, such as "light" & "darkness" and "day" & "night" meaning "good" and "evil," and in another sense seeing "day" as being some arbitrarily long period of time in the hundreds of years, why should any of the other words be seen as anything approaching literal?


Will, if you do come back and leave a comment, I have a request. I realize my comment was long, so you may not have time to respond to every point. The one I'd be most interested in hearing is an explanation of the second day of creation, and just what it all means. After that, the next most interesting point would be the plants. In a day-age interpretation of Genesis, how did plants survive without the sun, or without the necessary pollinators. Thirdly, why accept some words as completely symbolic (light and darkness), but then treat other words (such as the organisms and the order they were created in) as literal? Any other points I may have made I'd still be interested in hearing a response to, but not nearly as much as those three.

Best answer I've gotten was that laws of physics didn't work the same way as they do now. It wasn't until the creation was complete that all of the laws of physics started working correctly. Basically what I was told is that any evidence that contradicts the creation story is simply that way because we are limited to only understanding things that we can view with our current physics. All of the plants survived because they were essentially on pause. Time wasn't fully created yet.

The reason that some of the phrases are literal, others are symbolic and yet others are allegorical is because god didn't write the bible. Instead it was told to someone (Moses?). Since the writer lacked the ability to describe billions of years and close to an infinite amount of info about creation he did the best he could with the primitive language available to him.

One example of such lack of descriptive terms was told to me about the dragons in revelations(?). The literalist asked me how a man from a few thousand years ago might describe an apache helicopter. I guess that a dragon and a helicopter would sort of have similar descriptions when described by an illiterate man from the past.

I suppose it makes sense if someone really wants to delude themselves. My question is why bend all the truths to make one "truth" make sense? Especially if you are only believing in that truth because your are trusting your gut feeling. There isn't a good way to know if your gut feeling is right or not. After all, how many people's gut feelings are different than yours? If your gut feeling was so good how come you don't win the lottery every drawing?

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