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...