Young Earth Creationists hold that Genesis One teaches a chronological account of the natural history and that that pre-human natural history lasted literally a week (144 hours). Each creation day, they take to be a literal, 24 hour day, and they believe that this account accurately describes the material origins of all of God’s creation.
They are very confident that this interpretation is correct. So confident are they, that a good majority of them are unable to separate their interpretation of Genesis 1 (mentioned in the paragraph above) with what Genesis 1 says. This means that if you don’t agree with their interpretation, if you think the days of Genesis 1 should be properly interpreted as long time periods of indefinite length, if you think Genesis 1 is not meant to be a chronological view of origins, but a thematic construction with God created realms during the first 3 days and filling those realms with creatures in the corresponding second set of 3 days, or if you think Genesis 1 isn’t about material origins at all, but a period of 7 days in which God inaugurates His temple “creating” functions for all things, if you take any of these interpretations, they will accuse you of disbelieving The Bible. They’ll say you don’t believe what The Bible says. They’ll say you’re in denial about what The Bible “clearly says”. They’ll say that your “Non-literal” interpretation is driven by a desire to combine “man’s word” (i.e modern science) with God’s Word (i.e Genesis 1).
In this blog post, I want to point out that the Young Earth Creationist’s (YEC’s) view of Genesis 1 is problematic on exegetical grounds. I won’t be advocating for any particular alternative interpretation of Genesis such as Day-Age View1, The Framework Hypothesis2, The Cosmic Temple Inauguration3 View, or The Proclamation Day interpretation4. Rather, I will focus solely on the scriptural and logical problems of the 24 hour day view. If The Callendar Day view is really untenable as I contend, then one should look for a different interpretation, be it The Day Age view, The Cosmic Temple view, or whatever. So, what are the hermeneutical issues with the YEC interpretation? They seem to be four in number.
Problem 1: Trees Don’t Grow In A Day
“Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth”; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.” – (Genesis 1:11-12, emphasis mine)
On Day 3, we are told that God decreed that THE EARTH should sprout vegetation, plants that yield seed, and fruit-bearing trees, and then it happened. Now, given the specific wording of this passage, if we are assuming Genesis 1 is an account of material origins in natural history, then this “day” must be much longer than 24 hours, or be a symbolic day. The Earth cannot sprout fruit-bearing trees within a time span of 24 hours. Now, if the text had said “And God said ‘Let there be trees!’ and there was. God saw that the trees were good.” then this argument wouldn’t work, as you could argue for instantaneous ex nihilo creation. However, the text does not say that. The text “clearly says” that the earth is bringing forth the vegetation. If we assume that Genesis 1 is a chronological account of material origins, then this “day” should either be interpreted as symbolic or as a long time period.
The Earth producing trees over a gradual and long period of time is consistent with interpretations such as The Day-Age view, The Framework Hypothesis, and The Proclamation Day view, but it is totally inconsistent with the Callendar Day view.
Now, in past conversations when I have used this argument, YECs have objected “But God can do anything! He can miraculously speed up the process of plant growth if He wanted to.” Yes, He could. But does the text say that? As Dr. William Lane Craig put it ” if the author were thinking here of 24-hour periods of time, what he would have to be imagining would be something like time-lapse photography where the little seed bursts out of the ground and then erupts into this tree, grows up and pops out blossoms all over and then bam! bam! bam! all the apples pop out on the tree. I just can’t persuade myself that this is what the author was thinking of – that he imagined this looking like a film being run on fast forward. So when he says that the earth brought forth vegetation bearing seed according to its kind and trees bearing fruit according to their kinds I think it is very plausible to think that the author didn’t imagine this happening in just 24 hours.”5 To reiterate Dr. Craig, are we to believe that Moses and his readers imagined the events of Day 3 being like a film running on fast forward? It would strain credulity to answer that in the affirmative.
Problem 2: Hitting The YEC Interpretation Where The Sun Don’t Shine (part 1)
YECs constantly berate Old Earth Creationists and Evolutionary Creationists such as myself for not taking the biblical text at its plain meaning. However, there are some metaphors in the ink so blatant that they stick out like sore thumbs. In fact, Moses had to have acknowledged this metaphor when he jotted Genesis 1 down. The sun was not created until day 4. 24 hour days were not created until day 4. Yet days 1-3 are described as 24 hour days.
How can you even count a solar day, i.e a 24 hour day, without the sun? What is the meaning of a literal 24 hour day without a reference point? We know a day has passed because the sun has made its journey from the east side of the horizon to the west side. However, without the sun, where’s the measuring stick? The typical YEC responds to this argument by saying that God can have a day even without the sun. Our Lord Yahweh is well aware of how much time is passing and may declare that a day has passed, sun or no sun. There are several problems with this interpretation. First, the YEC will be the first to remind us that the recurring phrase “and there was evening and there was morning” are powerful indicators of a day-night cycle.
As Jim Boucher of ThereforeGodExists.com writes “If you were to read the entire passage until day 4, you would have thought that the sun was there. In verse 5, the author writes, ‘God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.’ The author says here that there actually was light. But not only that there was light, but the very light that separates night from day.” 6
Boucher then writes “Dr. John Morris raised a few points in response. He said first that light could come from elsewhere. That may be the case. But it could not be referred to as “day” and “night,” in the sense that we are familiar as Genesis described. Second, he said that “God is light,” quoting 1st John 1:5. But that light is a moral light rather than physical brightness. Third, both he and Ken Ham made an argument against the day-age interpretation. But the day-age model is not the only model in which this argument is found. Fourth, Morris argued that perhaps there was a supernatural light. But that would be to read an outside concept into the text in an effort to preserve his tradition. Such is the way of Neo-Ussherianism and precisely why it should be re-branded. It seems more plausible to accept that days 1-3 are speaking of actual the light from the sun despite that the sun is not created until day 4. The metaphorical interpretation should therefore be easily grasped.” 7
“The text indicates that God planted a garden. This garden was not planted full-grown, since the text says that the trees were caused to sprout or grow (Hebrew tsamach). The amount of time allowed for the garden to grow is not stated, but would presumably take longer than 24-hours. After the garden had grown sufficiently, the man was placed into the garden to cultivate it. By this time, the trees were producing fruit so that Adam could eat. This process takes a period of time greater than 24 hours. Next, Adam was given the assignment of naming the birds, cattle and wild animals. The list includes only birds and mammals and does not mention fish or other lower life forms. Even so, it would require that Adam name at least 14,600 species (8,600 species of birds and 4,000 species of mammals). This would require Adam to name more than 10 species per minute (assuming he had the entire 24 hours). For those who believe in a young earth, it would require that Adam name not only all of the existing birds and mammals but all the ones in the fossil record also (since they would all have to be alive on day 6 – since no animal death occurred before the fall). This type of assignment would almost certainly double the number of animals Adam had to name. However, Adam did not have the entire 24 hours, since part of it was required for the planting and growing of the garden, Adam tending the garden, and God putting Adam to sleep to create Eve. Realistically, Adam would have to name at least 20 species per minute, including all the species found in the fossil record. Following this naming of the animals, no suitable helper was found for Adam. So, God put Adam to sleep, took at piece of Adam’s side, and created Eve. Adam’s response to Eve’s creation is also telling. Upon seeing Eve for the first time, Adam says “at last.” This is not exactly the response one would expect from a person who had waited for less than one day. So, we must conclude that the sixth day was most certainly longer than 24 hours.”10
If we assume that Genesis 1 is a chronological account of the natural history and of material origins, then we have a problem here. It seems that the evidence from within the text itself indicates that we need to interpret Day 6 as being either a long period of time (Day-Age) or symbolic (Framework Hypothesis, Cosmic Temple). In any case, it cannot be a 24 hour time period.
Notice that Adam is the one doing most of the work on this day, so appeals to God’s omnipotence won’t work, and any explanation that gives Adam super speed so he can get everything done in time is ludicrous and ad-hoc.
I don’t find the YEC view of Genesis 1 tenable. This isn’t merely on the basis of scientific reasons (although an overwhelming scientific case can be built against it), it is also on the basis that it suffers from many scriptural problems as well. No, I don’t disbelieve what The Bible says. I just reject the young earth creationist’s textually problematic interpretation of Genesis 1. We should look for another interpretation, whatever that might be.
1: The Day-Age view posits that each creation Day in Genesis 1 is a long, but indefinite period of time. Day-Age advocates, like Hugh Ross of Reasons To Believe, defend this view by pointing out that the Hebrew word translated as “Day” is “Yom” and yom has 3 literal definitions; (1) a 24 hour day, (2) the 12 hour period of daylight, and (3) a long period of time. Therefore, interpreting the days as long time periods is permissible by the Hebrew grammar. Additional exegetical arguments given are some of the same I use in this blog post, such as it taking more than a day for trees to grow on Day 3 and Day 6 is filled with too many events to squeeze into a 24 hour period. If you want to study this interpretation, read Hugh Ross’ book A Matter Of Days.
2: The Framework Hypothesis says that Genesis 1 is not meant to be a chronological account of natural history at all. Rather, like how the events in Jesus’ life are arranged thematically in the gospels, the events of natural history are arranged thematically in the book of Genesis. The first 3 days involve God creating the “realms” of (1) the cosmos, (2) the sky and sea, and (3) the land and vegetation. Days 4-6 involve God “filling” the “realms” with “creatures”. On Day 4, God creates the sun, moon, and stars to fill the heavens that He created on Day 1. On day 5, God created fish and birds to fill the seas and skies He created on Day 2. On Day 6, God created land animals and humans to inhabit the land masses on Day 3. So, Framework theorists argue, while describing historical events, Genesis 1 does not describe them in a chronological manner or tell us how long each creation event lasted.
3: The Cosmic Temple Inauguration view is the interpretation defended by Professor John Walton of Wheaton College in his book The Lost World Of Genesis One. This view says in a nutshell that the 7 days are 24 hour days, but they’re days not of God physically bringing things into existence, but to ascribing function to the things He already physically brought into being prior to the 7 days. On this view, the universe is God’s cosmic temple, and the 7 days of ascribing function are what God does to inaugurate his temple. God’s “rest” on this view, isn’t merely God saying “okay, I’m done creating. Time to stop now”, rather, it’s God declaring that He’s taking up rest in his temple. I’m rather partial to this interpretation, and I highly recommend reading Walton’s book.
4: The Proclamation Day view states that the days of Genesis 1 took place in God’s throne room, wherein God proclaimed each step of creation. The throne room days are not related to days or time periods on Earth.
5: Dr. William Lane Craig, Defenders 2, “Creation and Evolution” transcript, page 15, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/images/uploads/Defenders_2_-_9_Creation_and_Evolution.pdf
6: Jim Boucher, “Why We Should Rebrand Young Earth Creationists As Neo-Ussherians”, February 21 2017, https://thereforegodexists.com/re-brand-young-earth-creationists-neo-ussherians/
8: Hugh Ross and Kent Hovind’s Debate can be read here –> https://creation.com/rosshovind-debate-john-ankerberg-show-october-2000-analysis-by-jonathan-sarfati
9: See ibid.
10: Richard Deem, “The Literal Interpretation Of The Genesis One Creation Account”, http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/genesis1.html
11: I’m not kidding. Some YECs I’ve debated online have actually postulated that maybe Adam could move much, much faster prior to The Fall.