The Bible has a great deal to say about creation, and not just in Genesis. Debates about the meaning of Genesis 1 go much farther back than Charles Darwin, father of the modern theory of evolution. Christians in the first three centuries debated the meaning of this passage, and there are biblical and scientific reasons for more than one interpretation.
For Darwin Day, here are three views supported by the Bible, taken from the new book Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design.
1. Young-earth creationism.
The structure of each creation day in Genesis 1 — except the day of God’s rest — emphasizes “evening and morning.” Many Christians have interpreted these as 24-hour days, and used the genealogies in Genesis to argue that the earth is comparatively young — thousands of years old as opposed to millions or billions.
Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, presented this argument in Four Views. “Young-earth creationists contend that the Bible is very clear that the days of the creation week in Genesis 1:1-2:3 are literal, twenty-four-hour days, just like our days today,” Ham wrote.
“The Hebrew word for day (yom) is defined in its two literal, normal senses the very first time it is used in the Bible (Gen 1:5): (1) the light portion of the dark-light cycle contrasted with night (laylah) and (2) the whole dark-light cycle. The days are numbered (first, second, third, etc.), and each is preceded by the refrain ‘and there was evening (‘ereb), and there was morning (boqer).’ Every other place in the Old Testament where yom is modified by a number it always means a literal twenty-four-hour day,” Ham argued.
Ham did not just rely on Genesis 1, however. He referenced Exodus 20:8-11, God’s commandment to take the Sabbath day as holy. “God tells the Israelites to work six days and to rest on the seventh because He created in six days and ceased creating on the seventh. The commandment makes no sense if the days are not literal in verse 11 as they are in verses 8-10,” he wrote.
He further argued that the order of creation in Genesis prevented any other reading of the order of creation. “In Genesis the earth was created before the light and the sun, moon and stars, whereas in evolutionary cosmology most stars were formed before the sun, which gave birth to the earth and the moon.”
Ham noted that the Genesis genealogies — the lists of descendants of Adam and Eve — leave no room for missing years. He further argued that there could not have been death before the Fall, because God called the creation “very good.”
Finally, Ham attacked the scientific principle of uniformitarianism — that the scientific laws in action today worked the same way in the past. Ham argued that this principle was employed to attack the biblical view of creation, and so should be rejected on those grounds. He drew a clear distinction between experimental science and historical science. “While Genesis 1-11 is not a science text (regarding experimental science), it is inerrant history by the eyewitness Creator, whose existence and attributes are revealed in what He made and the book He inspired.”
Ham admitted that the timeline of creation is not a salvation issue, but he argued that any view besides his “sends a message to others that you can pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe,” such that “the old-earth Christian’s example becomes a stumbling block to others.”
But there are biblical — as well as scientific — arguments to consider an old-earth perspective.
2. Old-earth creationism.
Hugh Ross, an astronomer and president of Reasons to Believe, presented biblical arguments for uniformitarianism, the central principle Ken Ham firmly rejected.
“In Jeremiah 33 God compares his immutable character to the changelessness of laws governing the heavens and the earth,” Ross wrote.
“Prior to Adam’s sin, the second law of thermodynamics was fully operational,” he added. “According to Romans 8, the entire creation has been ‘groaning,’ right up to the present, as a consequence of its ‘bondage to decay’ (vv.20-22). Since the space-time dimensions cannot be separated from one another, ‘the entire creation’ implies the law of decay applies to the entire spatial and temporal extent of the universe.”
Ross noted that the scientific constants for Genesis 1-11 to have any meaning require the kind of stable natural laws witnessed today. “Genesis 1 and 2 depict starlight, metabolism, and human work, all predating human sin and all requiring entropy. The sun’s (and other stars’) stable burning, organisms’ metabolizing of food, and Adam’s (pre-sin) performance of work all require the laws of physics to be in continuous operation at their current values from the beginning of time. Even a tiny variation would have rendered these functions impossible,” the astronomer explained.
He argued for an integration of scientific discoveries with a deep reading of scripture. “To link biblical passages outlining fundamental features of big bang cosmology (creation ex nihilo, cosmic expansion from a space-time beginning under constant physical laws, including a pervasive law of decay) with findings of ongoing scientific research seems reasonable and appropriate,” Ross wrote.
Perhaps most importantly, Ross presented arguments that the Bible’s version of creation aligns better with an old-earth perspective.
The events of the sixth day could not have taken place in 24 hours, he claimed. Not only did God plant a garden in Eden and place God in it, but He had Adam name all the “soulish” creatures — and Adam “had sufficient time to discover the joys of interaction with these [animals] and to observe his own aloneness.” Then God had Adam fall asleep, performed surgery to create Eve, and Adam exclaimed something like the English expression “at last!”
Ross argued, “When examined together, just this latter portion of the sixth day’s activities seems to have filled many weeks, months, or years, even without sin’s interference.”
Besides that, Ross cited Psalm 95, John 5, and Hebrews 4, which suggest that the seventh day of God’s rest has continued for thousands of years. Furthermore, Psalm 90:4 declares, “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses, the same author behind Genesis.
Statements about Earth’s age such as Habbakuk 3:6 (the mountains are “ancient” and the hills “age-old”) and 2 Peter 3:5 (the heavens existed “long ago”) “would carry little impact if the universe and Earth’s hills were only a few days older than humankind,” Ross argued.
Ross also countered Ham’s argument that all numbered uses of the word yom must be 24-hour days by citing Hosea 6:2 (“after two days he [God] will revive us [Israel]; on the third day he will restore us”). “For centuries Bible expositors have noted that ‘says’ referred to in this passage represent years, perhaps as many as a thousand or more.”
Ross addressed the Exodus 20 claim as well (the argument that because God commands Jews to honor the Sabbath as a day, the days of creation must have been 24 hours). “This deduction is akin to saying the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles celebration proves the wilderness wanderings in Sinai lasted only eight days,” Ross wrote.
As for Noah’s flood, he noted that when Genesis focuses on flooding “the earth,” the emphasis falls on people, not the globe. Furthermore, many Bible passages such as Psalm 104, Job 38:8-10, and Proverbs 8:29 “indicate that the continents formed permanent boundaries for the oceans.”
As for death taking place before the Fall, Ross noted that the Apostle Paul “clarifies that Adam’s sin inaugurated death among humans. Neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture does God’s word say that Adam’s offense brought death to all life.” Rather, “physical death, though grievous, yields valuable redemptive benefits. Death of nonhuman life blessed humanity with a treasure chest of more than seventy-six quadrillion tons of biodeposits.”
Ross has laid out a scheme to explain the old-earth view, fitting the Genesis days to ages of the earth. He has claimed that God has engineered creation in such a way as to maximize the amount of human beings saved by Jesus Christ, and he has presented some scientific benchmarks to make his view testable.
3. Evolutionary creation.
Deborah Haarsma, president of BioLogos, argued that the scientific theory of evolution is compatible with biblical creation. She made a clear distinction between Darwinistic evolutionism — which uses evolution to disprove God — and the scientific theory, which does not necessarily have theological implications.
“Thus, evolution is not a worldview in opposition to God but a natural mechanism by which God providentially achieves his purposes,” Haarsma wrote. She presented the theory of accommodationism — that God spoke in scripture in a way that the Jews and Christians would understand at the time. God has revealed Himself in two books: nature and scripture.
“It is crucial that we do not confuse our human interpretations with God’s actual revelation, since we can be in error in our understanding,” Haarsma explained. “Conflicts appear only when our interpretation of one or both books is in error.”
The BioLogos president noted that “the books of the Bible were written by many human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, across a span of more than a thousand years, to tell the big, true story of God’s work in the world and with his people. Those authors came from many cultures, wrote in multiple languages, and used several literary genres.”
She cited Psalm 93:1, which claims the earth is established and “cannot be moved” — something in contrast to the understanding of modern science that the earth revolves around the sun. The cultural context “shows that a modern scientific meaning was not intended; the passage is using the fixed earth as a metaphor for the stability of God’s rule.”
Haarsma claimed that focusing on 24-hour days for Genesis 1 is to lose the real meaning of the text in context. While the surrounding cultures presented “each piece of the natural world [as] a god,” and humans created to be slaves, Genesis insisted that “there is only one God” and that “humans are created not as lowly salves, but in the image of God and as a very good part of God’s creation.”
“God could have chosen to explain to the Israelites that their physical picture was mistaken, that the sky is actually a gaseous atmosphere covering a spherical earth. Instead, God chose a better approach: He accommodated his message to their understanding in order to make the intended message very clear,” the BioLogos president wrote. She quoted John Calvin, who compared God’s accommodation to our understanding to “baby talk.”
Importantly, “in this interpretation God’s intended message does not change as science advances.”
As for death before the Fall, Haarsma noted that God delights in predators in Job 38-39. As for humans evolving from monkeys, Genesis 2 explains God formed man from the dust of the earth and then breathed into him a soul — could evolution explain the first half, while God’s special intervention after evolution explains the second?
Unlike Ham or Ross, the BioLogos president did not suggest her vision of exactly how creation unfolded was specifically stipulated by the Bible, but she insisted that the best scientific evidence supported the evolution of life via some kind of God-inspired natural selection. Should the theory of evolution fall apart, her faith will not be shaken — while if it can be fully established, that could prove problematic for Ham and Ross.
Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not on the age of the earth or a human being’s reading of Genesis 1. While each of these authors vehemently disagreed with the others, they all agreed on the inspiration behind scripture, the importance of the doctrine that God created everything, and the saving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
On Darwin Day, Christians should know that the Bible is not inherently opposed to evolution, and there are at least three different ways of reading scripture on the specifics of creation.