Combining Human Time & Genesis Days

Combining Human Time & Genesis Days: A New Solution to Literally Harmonizing the Genesis Days with the Scientific Age of the Earth

By Rad Miksa

Introduction

Since at least the time of Saint Augustine, Christians have debated how best to interpret the creation ‘days’ found in Genesis 1.[1] Today, that debate continues, often in an acrimonious fashion,[2] with Young-Earth Creationists (YECs)—Christians who claim that the Genesis days are 24-hour periods of time—routinely alleging that theirs is the only interpretation that is faithful to scripture. By contrast, proponents of an old-earth—meaning Christians who interpret the Genesis days symbolically[3] or as long periods of time[4]—disagree with the YEC’s assessment; consequently, numerous old-earth proponents have made several attempts to harmonize the Genesis days with the scientific claim that the earth (and the universe) are billions of years old.[5] But the problem for old-earth Christians is that the YEC view has powerful and difficult to answer scriptural arguments in its favor.[6] Such arguments have thus undermined past attempts to harmonize the Genesis days with scientific claims concerning the age of the earth, a situation which is problematic for any Christian who wants to be largely in accord with modern science.[7] At the same time, the situation is worsened by the fact that unbelievers use YEC and the Genesis day issue to claim that science and Christianity are essentially incompatible.[8] In light of these problems and disagreements, an important question thus arises: Can the days in the Genesis 1 creation account be literally harmonized with the scientific claim that the earth is billions of years old, especially in a way that is scripturally plausible and also resolves the concerns raised by both young and old earth creationists?

This work will argue that such a literal harmonization can be done, so long as what a Genesis day actually is, given a literal reading of the text, is properly understood. And to show how this can be done, this work will first articulate its unique[9] solution—a solution that will allow the Genesis days to fit any age of creation that science might discover in the future—then it will provide a real-life analogy for its solution, and finally it will address the most common scriptural objections from both young and old earth Christians. As such, it will be the ideal solution to bridge the gap between young and old earth creationism, while also harmonizing perfectly with modern science. Finally, before delving into the proposed solution, it needs to be understood that this work will only be dealing with the issue of the Genesis days; it will not be dealing with evolution or the sequence of creation found in Genesis 1.

The Proposed Solution

When discussing the Genesis creation account, one passage of Scripture that is often underappreciated is Genesis 1:2—especially its second half—which says the following: “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving [or hovering] over the surface of the waters” (Gn 1:2 NASB). Now, there are a number of things that are critical to recognize in the aforementioned passage. First, in contrast to Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:2 shifts the reader from the heavens right down to the earth.[10] Second, the perspective in Genesis 1:2, and then in the rest of Genesis 1, is God’s perspective; after all, there is no other person mentioned in Genesis 1 except for God (excluding the final creation of man at the end of Genesis 1). Third, not only is Genesis 1 presented from God’s perspective, but it is specifically from the perspective of the Spirit of God as that Spirit is hovering/moving close to the surface of the earth. Note, as well, that this hovering-over-the-earth Godly perspective is introduced in Genesis 1 before any of the creation days are even mentioned. Consequently, it is the perspective of Genesis 1; or, to phrase it another way, it is the most literal perspective through which to read Genesis 1.

It is also vital to understand that in Genesis 1, the days of creation are never shown to be counted by any type of human time calculation (minutes or hours); rather, the literal and direct reading of Genesis 1 shows that a ‘creation day’ is only counted as a completed day when there is a clear transition from light, to darkness, to light again. Consider Genesis 1:5: “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” (Gn 1:5 NASB). Thus, when read literally, the Genesis days are only “days” once there has been a cycle of daytime, to nighttime, to daytime again. Furthermore, Genesis 1:5 clearly identifies the day with light, meaning that for that text, a day is counted by a period of light, not by anything else. And this fact cannot be stressed enough: in Genesis 1, nowhere are the days counted by human hours; rather, the creation days are literally counted by a transition from daytime/daylight, to nighttime/darkness, to daytime/daylight again.

With these two main points in mind, the way in which the Genesis creation days can be literally harmonized with the scientific claim that the earth is billions of years old begins to materialize. In essence, during the act of creating, the Spirit of God (or the Holy Spirit, if you will[11])—who, remember, is close to the earth and is moving/hovering over its waters—could have simply remained moving in what was the daytime side of the earth[12] while millions, or even billions, of actual human years passed by. Furthermore, the Spirit of God, if He so desired, could have waited eons to complete the daylight-to-nighttime-to-daylight transition cycle that have would been required for the completion of a single Genesis creation day. In this way, it would be entirely possible for there to be only one literal creation day occurring for God, even though, in human time, millions or billions of years might have passed-by during that one creation day.

Additionally, it is obvious that an almighty and eternal God[13] could remain moving over the daylight portion of the earth for as long as He pleased; indeed, there is no difficulty in accepting this as a logical or physical possibility for the God of Christian theism. At the same time, it is worth reiterating that this idea is entirely scriptural given that Genesis 1:2 tells the reader that the Spirit of God was literally moving or hovering over the earth as He was creating.

This solution works for the simple reason that both the perspective and the way in which ‘days’ are counted differ between Genesis and modern science. Modern science calculates days in terms of set human time, not as a transition from daytime to nighttime. By contrast, the Genesis creation days are calculated from God’s earthly perspective and via a transition from daylight-to-nighttime-to-daylight, but not by some set measurement of human time. And it is precisely because of these relevant differences that a literal reading of Genesis 1 can be harmonized with the scientific claim that the earth is billions of years old.  

This solution is also adaptable to any age that creation might eventually be determined to be, for, as stated, God could have remained in the daylight for as long or as short as He wished. Consequently, even if science one day claimed that the earth was actually one hundred billion years old, or just a hundred years old, this solution would still apply to such findings just as readily as it applies to today’s scientific claims.[14] This solution is internally flexible as well, meaning that it can accommodate the view that each creation day for God could have been different in terms of the length of time that that particular day lasted in human years; thus, for God, day one of creation may have lasted billions of years, whereas day six only lasted a few million. Ultimately, this solution is able to accommodate any such view as a live possibility.

While the solution presented above may seem unorthodox, even strange, upon reflection, it is actually quite familiar to modern humans. Consider, for example, a person who lives in the extreme north, where, during a polar day, the sun never sets for weeks at a time.[15] Or consider that in St. Petersburg, Russia, primarily in June, the residents there experience what are called White Nights; this is where the nights are so bright for a few weeks that nighttime essentially becomes indistinguishable from daytime.[16] Consequently, in such environments as the arctic or St. Petersburg, even though weeks might pass in actual measured human time, it would nevertheless still be true to say that a person living in that situation only experienced one “day”,  if a day was being counted as a light-to-darkness transition rather than as a period of hours. So, depending on how a person was counting their “days”, this is what would dictate how many days had passed for them. Also, that given the different ways that a person can determine what a ‘day’ is, it would be entirely possible to literally harmonize the claim that weeks of human time had passed and that only one light-to-darkness transition had occurred in the same period of time. Furthermore, consider that if a person, say, built a house during the weeks of constant daylight in St. Petersburg, then it would be correct to claim that the person created the house in just one day, if a day was being measured by a light-to-darkness transition, and that it took that person weeks in measured human time to create the same house. Both claims would be true at the same time! And this exact idea also holds true for God’s creative action during the six-days of creation.

Addressing Common Objections

Note that this work’s solution is quite robust in terms of dealing with the objections that are often raised against the idea that the Genesis days are actually long periods of time.

One objection is that the Hebrew word for ‘day’, namely ‘yom’, is translated as a period of daytime[17]—which is how it is used in Genesis 1[18]—and since, for humans, a period of daytime is normally equivalent to a 24-hour period, then is means that each day in Genesis 1 should be understood as a 24-hour period of time. But that is precisely the point: for humans, a period of daylight is generally 24 hours long, because humans lack the ability to extend their presence in daylight.[19] However, this is not necessarily the case for a being, like God, who does not suffer from the same limitations as humans. Thus, this solution can accept the fact that yom, for humans, usually means a 24-hour period; but at the same time, this solution will point out that in Genesis 1, the proper perspective to use is God’s perspective, not a human perspective. Furthermore, it is God’s perspective as God is hovering over the waters of the earth. And since God is in no way limited to having His period of daylight only be 24-hours, then yom, for God, does not usually or necessarily mean a 24-hour period of time. Consequently, the standard definition of the word yom as a period of daylight can be readily accepted, while still leaving this solution completely intact.

Perhaps the most important objection against the Genesis days being longer than 24 hours stems from the fact that Exodus 20:8-11 and Exodus 31:15-17 allegedly only make sense if understood in terms of a normal seven-day week.[20] This objection, however, misses a key factor that should be included when reading the above scriptural passages: namely, that since those scriptural passages are comparing six human days to the six days of creation, then it is necessary to understand the days of creation as they are defined in Genesis 1, which is as transitions from light-to-darkness-to-light again. When read with this understanding, the Exodus passages suddenly transform in meaning. Indeed, consider those passages as they are, but with the word ‘day’ replaced with its proper definition as a daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition:

Six [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transitions] you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition] is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transitions] the Lord made heaven and earth…and rested on the seventh [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition]. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition] and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11 ESV)

Six [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transitions] shall work be done, but the seventh [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition] is a Sabbath…. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition] shall be put to death. … It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transitions] the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh [daylight-to-darkness-to-daylight transition] he rested…. (Ex 31:15-17 ESV)

When understood in this way—which is the proper way to understand these passages given their reference to the creation days—the two passages in Exodus can be taken literally, and yet there is no tension between these passages and the creation days being equivalent to billions of human years. After all, while the Spirit of God did take six literal light-to-darkness transitions to complete creation, those six transitions could have taken billions of years to complete. Furthermore, since, in Exodus, God is speaking to human beings who have no ability to extend their period of daylight (via technology or otherwise), it is thus no shock that for those human beings, a cycle of daylight and darkness would be equivalent to a period of 24-hours;[21] and so it is no surprise that for such humans, six daylight-to-night-to-daylight transitions would be the same as six 24-hour periods. But no such limitation applies to God, and so for God, six daylight-to-night-to-daylight transitions need not be equivalent to six 24-hour periods.

Finally, some YECs argue that Genesis 1’s use of the ‘evening and morning’ motif should be taken literally rather than symbolically, and so they claim that this demonstrates that Genesis 1 is speaking about a literal day.[22] But this work’s solution can accept the claim that the evenings and mornings mentioned in Genesis 1 literally occurred. However, it must be remembered that they occurred for the Spirit of God as He moved over the earth. And since it is completely plausible that billions of years passed before God decided to experience a literal evening and morning,[23] then there is no issue in claiming Genesis 1’s interpretation to be literal, as each creation day could have been millions or billions of years long.

While this work’s solution can address the main objections from YEC critics, the beauty of this solution is that it can also accommodate the objections raised against YEC. For example, old-earth proponents argue that since Genesis 2:2-3 claims that God rested on the seventh day of creation, and since there is no ‘evening to morning’ transition listed for the seventh day—unlike for the first six days of creation—then the most literal interpretation of that passage is that the seventh day has not yet ended.[24] Old-earth proponents also point to Hebrews 4:1-11 to support this contention.[25] But if a creation day is merely 24-hours, then Scripture would be wrong, as the seventh day would have ended long ago, and so young-earth proponents have a potential problem.[26] Yet for this solution, no problem arises, for it would be possible to claim that the Spirit of God from Genesis 1:2 is literally still in the “day” phase of the seventh day, but the rest of His creatures, including humans—who obviously cannot remain in the day-phase indefinitely like God can—have experienced the passage of many years since God’s last creative act.

Additionally, note that a young-earth account of Genesis 1 generates tension with Genesis 2:4, which literally claims that God created everything in just one creation day. Thus, if the Genesis days are literal 24-hour periods of time, then there is a clear contradiction between the idea that God created both in six 24-hour periods and also in only one 24-hour period. However, using this work’s solution and the Christian concept of the Trinity, this problem can be solved, and solved in a literal way. After all, given the Trinity, and given the understanding that a Genesis creation day is measured by the observer’s experience of a day-to-night transition, it would thus be possible for one person of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit/Spirit of God, to do His creative work in six Genesis days, whereas another person of the Trinity could complete His creative work—whatever that entailed—in only one Genesis day.[27] And so again, this work’s proposed solution can not only literally harmonize six Genesis creation days with billions of human years, but it can also resolve the tensions that exists between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2:4.

Finally, this solution receives additional support from 2 Peter 3:8, which states that for God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. This shows that for God, one day can literally be like a very long period of time, or a very long period of time can be one day, which is precisely what this solution is claiming.

Conclusion

The solution presented in this work demonstrates that there is a plausible and scripturally faithful way to literally harmonize the six-day Genesis creation account with the scientific claim that the universe is billions of years old. Indeed, given a proper understanding of a Genesis creation day as a transition, and an understanding that Genesis 1 must be read through God’s eyes, it is readily possible to show how God could have simultaneously created the earth both in six literal ‘transition’ days and over billions of years of human time. Furthermore, this solution can easily answer the main scriptural concerns raised by both sides of the creation ‘day’ debate. And while it is doubtful that this solution will dissolve the heated inter-Christian arguments that surround the Genesis creation account, it nevertheless provides Christians with a plausible, faithful, and reasonable way of taking the Genesis creation days literally, while at the same time being able to accept the scientific findings concerning the age of creation; and achieving such an outcome is no small accomplishment.

Bibliography

Primary Sources:

Catechism of the Catholic Church. At The Holy See, at http://www.vatican.va.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. At Bible Gateway, at http://www.biblegateway.com.

The Holy Bible: New American Standard Version. At Bible Gateway, at http://www.biblegateway.com.

 

Secondary Sources:

“3117. Yom.” At Bible Hub, 2017, at http://www.biblehub.com.

De Cruz, Helen. “Religion and Science.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. At http://www.plato.stanford.edu.

Fretheim, Terence E. “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long: Yes.” In Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood, 12-35. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986.

McCone, R Clyde. “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long: No.” In Genesis  Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood, 12-35. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986.

Plantinga, Alvin. “Religion and Science.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. At http://www.plato.stanford.edu.

“Polar Day.” At Cambridge Dictionary, at http://www.dictionary.cambridge.org.

Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001.

Ross, Hugh. A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy. Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2015. Kindle.

Ruse, Michael. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and

Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Siegel, Ethan. “How Do We Know The Age Of The Universe?” At Forbes, 29 April 2016, at http://www.forbes.com.

Stambaugh, James. “The Meaning of ‘Day’ in Genesis.” Acts and Facts 17, no. 10 (1988)

“White Nights.” At Saint-Petersburg.com, at http://www.saint-petersburg.com.

Wild, Flint. “What is Earth?” At NASA, 4 October 2017, at https://www.nasa.gov.

Wilkinson, David A. “Reading Genesis 1-3 in the Light of Modern Science.” In Reading Genesis after Darwin, ed. Stephen C. Barton and David Wilkinson, 127-144. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

——–

[1] Michael Ruse, Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The Relationship between Science and Religion (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 49-52.

[2] Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy, (Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2015), chap. 1, Flashpoint, Kindle.

[3] Terence E. Fretheim, “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long: Yes,” in Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986), 25-28.

[4] David A. Wilkinson, “Reading Genesis 1-3 in the Light of Modern Science,” in Reading Genesis after Darwin, ed. Stephen C. Barton and David Wilkinson, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 136.

[5] Flint Wild, “What is Earth?” at NASA (4 October 2017), at https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-is-earth-58.html; Ethan Siegel, “How Do We Know The Age Of The Universe?” at Forbes (29 April 2016), at http://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2016/04/29/how-do-we-know-the-age-of-the-universe/#223647ad6155; Helen De Cruz, “Religion and Science,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, at http://www.plato.stanford.edu.

[6] Fretheim, “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long: Yes,” 12-35.

[7] This is especially the case since Christians should actually welcome the findings of modern science as yet another way to learn about God’s creation.

[8] Alvin Plantinga, “Religion and Science,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, at http://www.plato.stanford.edu.

[9] Note that, to the best of the author’s knowledge, this solution is unique and original to the author.

[10] Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 19, 21.

[11] Although this issue is beyond the scope of this work, it is pertinent to wonder whether this solution, because it involves the Spirit of God literally being over the surface of the earth, is thus only available to Christianity, but not to Islam or Judaism. For only in Christianity is there the Holy Spirit that literally comes to the Earth and to Man in a spiritual form, and so for the Christian, it is not hard to accept that the Spirit of God literally descended to the earth during creation. However, the strict monotheism of Islam and Judaism seemingly requires them to interpret the ‘Spirit of God hovering over the earth’ symbolically, and so they likely cannot appeal to this solution.

[12] This is, of course, assuming the existence of the sun.

[13] Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Holy See, 202.

[14] It is interesting to note that the type, structure, and style of the verses found in Genesis are precisely what would be needed to make this solution both scripturally faithful and endlessly flexible. They did not need to be written in that way, and yet they are. Thus, it must be said that such a coincidence seems rather providential.

[15] “Polar Day,” at Cambridge Dictionary, at http://www.dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/polar-day.

[16] “White Nights,” at Saint-Petersburg.com, at http://www.saint-petersburg.com/virtual-tour/whitenights.

[17] “3117. Yom,” at Bible Hub, at http://www.biblehub.com/hebrew/3117.htm.

[18] Fretheim, “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long? Yes,” 17.

[19] And this would be the case for most of humanity until the advent of air transportation.

[20] Fretheim, “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long? Yes,” 19-21; James Stambaugh, “The Meaning of ‘Day’ in Genesis,” Acts and Facts, 17, no. 10 (1988).

[21] Again, as would be the case for most of humanity until the advent of air transportation.

[22] Fretheim, “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long? Yes,” 19; Stambaugh, “The Meaning of ‘Day’ in Genesis.”

[23] God could have even let His evenings and His mornings endure for billions of years if He wanted to.

[24] Ross, The Genesis Question, 64-65; R Clyde McCone, “Were the Days of Creation Twenty-Four Hours Long: No,” in Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986), 30-33.

[25] Ross, The Genesis Question, 64.

[26] Obviously, Young-Earth Creationists have their own answer to this objection, but that does not negate the fact that their view has a problem due to this point.

[27] It is interesting to note that this idea can be supported by the fact that Genesis 2:4 is the first time that the text describes God as “Lord God”, whereas up until that point, God is either referred to just as “God” or as the “Spirit of God”; consequently, perhaps the Genesis text is indeed pointing its reader to two different divine persons involved in creation, one the ‘Lord God’ and the other the ‘Spirit of God’.

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