“In matters that are obscure and far beyond our vision, even in such as we may find treated in Holy Scripture, different interpretations are sometimes possible without prejudice to the faith we have received.” — St. Augustine (AD 354-430), Bishop of Hippo, early Christian theologian & philosopher
Whereas the first two parts to this series dealt with broad categories of how people deal (and have dealt) with the “merger” of scientific investigation and scriptural/theological interpretation, this one deals more specifically with the “Creation Days” of Genesis 1 and how they might be read and understood, presumably in light of additional special revelation (Scripture) and/or general revelation (Nature).
I do not claim to be an expert in these matters, nor do I have all of the resources I would like. But, in my reading over the years, I have come across several different ways in which scholars and educated laymen have attempted to make sense of the Creation Week, and I jotted a few brief notes to remember them. I apologize beforehand that the info is so sparse on a few of them. I certainly don’t know enough to argue pros & cons for all of them, but that would be outside the scope of this primer, anyway. Some will, of course, be very familiar to you, while others you may have never heard of. Where possible, I have tried to provide the names of major proponents and book/article titles that may be of help for those who wish to further look into these positions.
I have tried to classify the various Creation Day views (aka hypotheses, theories, & interpretations) into categories that reflect major points that some have in common. I hope it makes sense. Of course, there is a certain overlap among some views, and it’s not a perfect system. Nor is the list complete, I’m sure. Plus, as with the classifications of positions in Parts 1 & 2, there is variety even within some of these views. But, it should give you a good idea of the many options presently available — though not equally justifiable — for Christians to consider.
Let’s begin with the best-known…
“Young Earth” Approach
Alternate Names: 24-Hour Day, Literal Day, Ordinary Day, Solar Day, Plain Day, No-Gap
Big Idea: The best way to approach the text is with a “plain-text reading”, where each <yom> of Creation takes the literal “24-hour day” definition. The 6-days (i.e., 144-hours) of predominantly de novo creation were contiguous and ended with a 24-hour day of “rest” for God. This all occurred at the very beginning of Time, roughly 6000 to 10,000 years ago. Various ideas — e.g., “mature creation” (aka “appearance of age”), much faster speed of light in the early past, accelerated radioactive decay rates in the early past, light was created in transit — are used to explain why various scientific techniques show the Universe, Earth, and many things in it to be quite ancient.
Noted Advocates: Martin Luther, Henry & John Morris, Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, Kent Hovind, Duane Gish, Douglas Kelly, Walter Brown, James Jordan, John Mark Reynolds(?)
Resource(s): The Genesis Record (1976/2009) by H. Morris; Creation and Change (1999/2004) by Kelly; Creation in Six Days (1999) by Jordan; Biblical Creationism (2000) by H. Morris
Note(s): This is the most popular position among Young Earth Creationists (YEC), and it typically goes hand-in-hand with the Flood Geology popularized by George McCready Price (The New Geology (1923)) in the 1920s-30s and by Henry M. Morris & John C. Whitcomb (The Genesis Flood (1961/2011)) in the 1960s-80s.
Alternate Names: Cosmic Days(?), Relativity Day(?), White-Hole Cosmology
Big Idea: Creation began with a ball of liquid water two light years in diameter, containing all the mass of the Universe. Gravity caused it to become a black hole, which “evaporated” a few thousand years later, transforming into a huge white hole. Our Universe expanded out from that white hole, when it exploded outward, releasing particles and energy. Relativistic effects are used to explain how eons-worth of activity could have been done in six 24-hour days (as perceived on Earth).
There are three central “arguments” to the proposal: 1) the physical significance of the Schwarzschild time coordinate of the Klein metric; 2) the gravitational time dilation effects of differences of gravitational potential in a bounded (white hole) universe which do not occur in an unbounded (Big Bang) Universe; 3) the profound effects of event horizons in a bounded universe. Most of the effects of 1 and 2 result from an event horizon, which would cause Earth clocks to be static while billions of years of time elapsed on clocks in the distant universe.
Noted Advocates: D. Russell Humphreys
Resource(s): Starlight and Time (1994) by Humphreys
Note(s): 1) While many YEC scholars/orgs like Humphreys’ theory, or at least are willing to grant it as a possibility, others (e.g., John Byl, the International Conference on Creationism (ICC)) are concerned with some highly questionable physics (as is the rest of the physics & cosmology community). 2) Since his book’s publication, Humphreys has abandoned much of the physics argumentation, including gravitational time dilation. Unfortunately, his subsequent new proposal (“New Vistas of Spacetime Rebut the Critics” (1998)) has been called “an even more unreasonable one.”
“Partial Creation” Approach
Alternate Names: Ruin(-and)-Reconstruction, Restitution, Re-Creation, Reconstitution, Pre-Adamic Cataclysm, Pre-Adamic Ruin, Catastrophe, Interval, Genesis Gap; all of these fall under “Hard Gap” or “Active Gap” Theory
Big Idea: The Creation “week” consisted of consecutive 24-hour days, but it was actually a re-creation or restoration of an ancient, primeval creation that had been ruined. This ruin was reflected in Gen. 1:2 — translating its opening “The Earth became formless and void…” — and occurred sometime between the “beginning” of verse 1 and the Day 1 events of verse 3. It was the result of destruction by Satan and his fallen angels, possibly also in conflict with pre-Adamic race(s) of “humans”. (Also, see Isaiah 24:1 & 45:18; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Ezekiel 28:13ff.) Evidence of this activity can still be found in the geological and fossil record, thereby doing away with the need for a global catastrophe by Noah’s Flood, though some still hold that it was global. Modern humans (and possibly all of extant life?) were created relatively recently in the past few thousands of years.
Noted Advocates: Thomas Chalmers, Edward Hitchcock, J.H. Kurtz, George H. Pember, Cyrus I. Scofield, Harry Rimmer, Arthur C. Custance, William F. Dankenbring, Kenneth Wuest, Merrill F. Unger, Jimmy Swaggert, Gaines R. Johnson, Ed Steele
Resource(s): Christian Revelation and Astronomy (1817/1851) by Chalmers; Earth’s Earliest Ages (1885) by Pember; Modern Science and the Genesis Record (1937) by Rimmer; Without Form and Void (1970) by Custance; The First Genesis (1975) by Dankenbring; God’s Creation Story (2009) by Steele; The Bible: Genesis and Geology (2nd ed., 2013) by Johnson
Note(s): 1) The above is the basic idea, though various Gap Theorists over the years differ on some specifics. 2) Unger was convinced that the Hebrew construction of Gen. 1:1-2 precluded a “gap” between them, so he proposed that the angelic sin and pre-Adamic cataclysm occurred prior to verse 1. He admits there is no Biblical support for this and his motivation was to accommodate the geological ages. (Unger’s Bible Handbook, 1966, pp. 37-39.) 3) Dankenbring’s science and theology are a bit “out there”, as he tries to incorporate things like ancient aliens, the mysteries of Easter Island, Atlantis, and the Great Pyramids into biblical discussions of creation, angels, Flood, Babel, Joshua’s Long Day, etc. He was influenced by Herbert W. Armstrong of the heretical Worldwide Church of God; his theory extends Satanic rebellion to include UFOs & planetary collisions.
Hesitation (not to be confused with Arthur Eddington’s cosmological theory)
Alternate Names: Biosphere Model
Big Idea: The Genesis account is not talking about the origin of the Universe at all. In fact, Gen. 1:1 may very well be referring to an event that occurred millions of years before the events that are subsequently described. The age of our solar system and the Earth are also indeterminate, since time, as we know it, did not exist on planet earth until light reached the surface. But the age of planet Earth’s biosphere is recent, following many of the usual YEC / Flood Geology arguments.
Noted Advocates: Gorman Gray
Resource(s): The Age of the Universe (2001) by Gray
Note(s): The geologist William Lee Stokes, a Mormon layman, proposes a “Celestial Days” or “Cosmic Day” theory in his book, The Genesis Answer (1981/1984), which also suggests a relatively recent origin of life on an ancient Earth in an ancient Universe.
Alternate Names: Punctuated Day, Opening Day(s), Isolated Day, Multiple Gap, Literal Days with Gaps; also, see “Days of Divine Fiat”
Big Idea: The Creation “days” in Genesis 1 are of the 24-hour variety and sequential but not consecutive. The creative acts did not occur on (or not only on) the days themselves, but rather during long periods in between them. Some advocates then take the position that each day both signifies the end of the preceding period of creative activity and initiates the next period. Others (e.g., Dunzweiler, Newman, Eckelmann) have proposed that each day signifies the beginning of the next creative period but without the prior period ending. In other words, the types of creative activity described for each period continue into the subsequent periods. We are currently in the 7th creative period, during which God continues His redemptive work, but God’s “rest” won’t begin until after the appearance of the New Heavens and the New Earth.
Noted Advocates: William Ames(?), J.O. Means, J. Barton Payne(?), Robert J. Dunzweiler, Robert C. Newman, Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Pattle P.T. Pun (actually torn between Overlapping Day-Age and Modified Intermittent-Day)
Resource(s): “A Proposed Creationist Alternative to Evolutionism” (1971/1983) by Dunzweiler; Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth (1977) by Newman & Eckelmann; Newman’s contribution to Three Views on Creation and Evolution (1999), ed. by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds; Evolution (1982) by Pun
Note(s): 1) Sometimes considered a species of Day-Age View (see below). The model proposed by Newman/Eckelmann is considered “Modified Intermittent Day”. (I have not read any earlier versions.) 2) As to the nature and dating of Man’s origin, as well as any connection to early hominids, Newman/Eckelmann do not address any of this in Genesis One. In his brief mention of the topic in the Three Views book, Newman states without elaboration that his take on it is similar to Hugh Ross’s but most closely matches that of Newman’s colleague Dr. John A. Bloom, with a footnote citing Bloom’s 1997 article “On Human Origins: A Survey”.
Alternate Names: n/a
Big Idea: God created during six, distinct 24-hr days (or, possibly, short periods of time), but they were separated by long periods of time without creative activity. (This is essentially the reverse (inverse?) of Intermittent Day.) Otherwise, holds to much of the same arguments as normal Day-Age. The seventh day may indeed be a long period of time.
Noted Advocates: Peter & Donald Stoner
Resource(s): Science Speaks (1952, 1976) by P. Stoner; A New Look at an Old Earth (1997) by D. Stoner
Alternate Names: Local Creation, Focus on Palestine, Focus on Eden, Edenic Creation
Big Idea: Genesis 1:1 refers to the period of the creation of the cosmos long ago, whereas Genesis 1:2-2:4a describes a period of six, 24-hour days during which a particular land — i.e., either Ancient Palestine (aka the Promised Land) or specifically Eden — was re-created/prepared, and human beings along with the plants and animals connected to them were created in it a few thousand years ago.
Noted Advocates: John Lightfoote, Milton Terry, John Pye Smith (sort of), John Sailhamer
Resource(s): On the Relation Between the Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Science (1840) by Pye Smith; Genesis Unbound (1996/2011) by Sailhamer
Note(s): 1) Pye Smith seems to have taken a “Focus on Eden” approach to the darkness & chaos and subsequent recreation from Gap Theory. 2) John Piper has said that he is most comfortable with Sailhamer’s position.
“Long Day” Approach
Alternate Names: Thousand-Year Day
Big Idea: Taking a cue from Psalm 90:4 and II Peter 3:8, each “day” of Creation equals 1000 years.
Noted Advocates: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus
Resource(s): “Dialogue with Trypho” by Justin (d. ca. 165); “Against Heresies” (ca. 180) by Irenaeus
Alternate Names: Geological Age, Age-Day, Overlapping Day-Age, Day-Era, Era, Indefinite Age, Divine Day, Cosmogonic Day
Big Idea: The best translation of the Creation <yom> (“day”) in Gen. 1 is the definition “a long but finite period of time”. (Some claim this is metaphorical or figurative, but it is in fact one of four literal definitions of that word in ancient Hebrew.) This is allowed, possibly even demanded, by various textual clues and strongly indicated by general revelation. Whatever combination of natural processes and supernatural acts were necessary to accomplish each creation “event” were accomplished during the relevant day/age/epoch. However, there is nothing to demand that the periods be equal in length. In fact, the seventh day is only a few tens of thousands of years long and ongoing (see Psalm 95, John 5, and Heb. 4), as God has temporarily ceased from directly creating anything new, and will end when God creates the New Heaven and the New Earth (see Rev. 21).
Noted Advocates: James Parkinson, Benjamin Silliman, Arnold Guyot, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, James D. Dana, J.W. Dawson, Hugh Miller, George Frederick Wright, early Bernard Ramm (see note under “Days of Revelation”), J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Edwin Gedney, Daniel Wonderly, Hugh Ross, Gleason L. Archer, Walt Kaiser, Walter Bradley, Roger Olsen, David Snoke, Dick Fischer, Pattle P.T. Pun (actually torn between Overlapping Day-Age and Modified Intermittent-Day)
Resource(s): An Introduction to Geology (2nd Amer. ed., 1833) by Bakewell & Silliman; Creation, or the Biblical Cosmogony in the Light of Modern Science (1884) by Guyot; Modern Science and Christian Faith (2nd ed., 1950) by Gedney, Evolution (1982) by Pun; The Origins Solution (1996) by Fischer; A Matter of Days (2004/2015) and Navigating Genesis (2014) by Ross; A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (2006) by Snoke
Note(s): 1) This view is most closely connected with the idea of “progressive creationism”. 2) Early advocates (e.g., Miller, Magoun) typically equated the “days” with various geological periods, but later scientific evidence has made that position untenable. Similarly, while some earlier theorists (e.g., Godet, Silliman) speculated that the Creation days did not overlap, many proponents (e.g., Dana, Buswell, Ross, Archer) held/hold that they are indeed overlapping. So, for example, whereas Genesis 1 has production of land vegetation beginning on Day 3, that does not mean that God could not have created new kinds of land vegetation on Days 4 thru 6, as well. Some have suggested that the creation “events” described in these verses (up until the advent of Man) are meant only to refer to when the majority, not all, of those particular “kinds” were created. (Naturally, there is some difference of opinion over the flexibility of the Hebrew text.) 3) There is plenty of variation of opinion on other issues — e.g., proper understanding of Gen. 1:1, how to read/explain the events of Day 4, dating the advent of Man, date & extent of Noah’s Flood (though the majority hold to a local/regional deluge), etc. 4) According to Davis A. Young, Herman Bavinck, E.J. Young, Derek Kidner, & R. Laird Harris have “maintained that the days were not ordinary days without committing themselves to any theory of harmonization.” (I don’t know if this is still true.) 5) Charles C. Ryrie allows for a possible, interminably long “passive gap” in Gen. 1:1-2 and a Day-Age interpretation, along with creation w/ appearance of age and effects of global Flood. 6) Paul S.L. Johnson, co-founder of an offshoot of Jehovah’s Witnesses, posited an odd version of Day-Age in his book Creation (1938), with each day being 7000 years long, as well as holding to Vail’s multiple-canopy theory for the Flood.
Alternate Names: Creation Day, Relativity Day, Cosmic Time, God’s Day, Stretched Time
Big Idea: The events recorded in Genesis 1 from “the beginning” to the appearance of mankind simultaneously took six 24-hour days and 14 billion years, starting at the same instant and finishing at the same instant. Psalm 90:4 indicates that God’s perception of time is quite different from mankind’s. “It has the feel of time seeming to pass at different rates for different participants in an event, but not necessarily being different in reality.” Thanks to the time dilation effects of relativity, we know that the perceived flow of time for an event in a continuously expanding universe will vary with the observer’s perspective of that event. Thus, what seems to us from our POV on Earth to take billions of years could take a mere 144 hours from God’s POV.
“The five and a half days of Genesis [until Man’s appearance, when the time perspective changes,] are not of equal duration. Each time the universe doubles in size, the perception of time halves as we project that time back toward the beginning of the universe. The rate of doubling, that is the fractional rate of change, is very rapid at the beginning and decreases with time simply because as the universe gets larger and larger, even though the actual expansion rate is approximately constant, it takes longer and longer for the overall size to double…. From the Bible’s perspective of time for those six evocative days of Genesis, the number of our years held compressed within each of those six 24-hour days of Genesis, starting with Day One, would be, in billions of years, respectively, 7.1; 3.6; 1.8; 0.89; 0.45; 0.23.”
Noted Advocates: Gerald Schroeder
Resource(s): Genesis and the Big Bang (1990) and The Science of God (1997) by Schroeder; also, “The Age of the Universe” (????) by Schroeder
Note(s): Some OECs like Schroeder’s view, though Christians must recognize that as a Jew he does not use any New Testament scripture in his considerations.
Alternate Names: Teleological-Semantic
Big Idea: There are two “logics” of creation. “The causal-temporal logic is bottom-up and looks at the world from the vantage of physical causality. The teleological-semantic logic is top-down and looks at the world from the vantage of divine intention and action. The causal-temporal logic that underlies the physical world is the organizing principle for natural history (chronos). The teleological-semantic logic that underlies divine action is the organizing principle for the order of creation (kairos). The key, then, is to interpret the days of creation in Genesis as natural divisions in the teleological-semantic logic of creation. In other words, Genesis 1 is not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time (chronos) but rather as time from the vantage of God’s purposes (kairos) [and, thus, non-linear]. Accordingly, the days of creation are neither exact 24-hour days nor epochs in natural history nor even a literary device. Rather, the days of creation in Genesis are actual (literal!) episodes in the divine creative activity. They represent key divisions in the divine order of creation, with one episode building logically on its predecessor. As a consequence, their description as chronological days needs to be viewed as an instance of the common scriptural practice of employing physical realities to illuminate deeper spiritual realities (cf. John 3:12).”
Noted Advocates: William Dembski
Resource(s): “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science” (2006/7) by Dembski
Note(s): As indicated above and by his paper’s title, Dembski’s approach is tied directly with his proposed theory for resolving the “problem of evil”.
To be continued…