Over the last four to five hundred years…atheists and skeptical unbelievers have focused the big artillery of their attacks…on the miraculous events recorded in the biblical narrative stories of faith…the ten plagues in Egypt…the parting of the Red Sea…Joshua holding back the progress of the sun across the sky…the walls of Jericho falling down…and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Obviously, the Bible has been critiqued and attacked from many other angles…archaeology, biology, paleontology, history, the accuracy of language translations, philosophy, religious studies, and the worldview of scientism attached to modern science…to name only a few.
But the one criticism that has seemed to stick…that has done the most damage…that has taken widespread root within our popular cultures around the world…is the idea that miracles in the Bible lower the narrative stories of faith down into the zone of children’s bedtime stories…into the category of human invented literary fiction…and thus render them bereft of their credibility to speak to a modern audience about divinely guided purpose, meaning, and direction for human life.
When I share my Christian testimony with other people…I sometimes come across people who have uncritically accepted this popular line of reasoning that says that the miracles in the Bible disqualify the narrative stories of faith…because miracles in our modern culture are considered unscientific…and for the same reason dismiss the creation account in Genesis chapters one and two as myth…because some people in Christianity still incorrectly contend that the Bible teaches a young earth of only six to eight thousand years old…thereby in their minds…the people I am speaking with…to serve as a basis to uncritically call into question the credibility of the entire Bible.
I then have to work uphill through these opening misconceptions…more often successfully but sometimes not…before I can establish the credibility of the statements about the natural world made in the Bible…and then move-on from there to share about Jesus Christ, the cross, and the resurrection.
There is actually nothing scientifically contrary or controversial in the words of Genesis chapters one and two that contradicts a modern scientific dating of the universe at 13.7 billion years old…the beginning of our earth at around 4.5 billion years ago…and the beginning of single-cell bacterial life on the slowly cooling earth at around 3.8 billion years ago.
Before the start of the Scientific Revolution, no one would have any reason to interpret the days of Genesis chapters one and two as anything other than 24-hour days.
It was the wrong interpretation by human beings of the words…that had to be corrected and updated by the discoveries of the modern sciences of geology and Charles Lyell in the 1820’s…and astronomy and Edwin Hubble in 1929…in this case.
The wording in the Genesis creation account concerning time was always accurate…is still accurate today in terms of a brilliant balance in giving just enough information without being too technically specific in details…achieving just the right sweet-spot to be functionally informative…yet carefully and reservedly economical in its information content…before and after modern science.
The four variations of the sophisticated use of the word day in the Genesis creation account have their best interpretation as periods of time that are not twenty-four hour durations (see the book Seven Days That Divide The World by John C. Lennox, pages 39-63).
The first use of the word day in verse 5 in chapter one…is not a 24-hour day…because it describes light as day and darkness as night…so day as used here is not a full 24-hour period…but is only a part of a full day.
The second use of the word day in verse 8 in chapter one…describes the evening and the morning as a day…the traditional Hebrew description of a 24-hour day.
In Genesis chapter two…verse 3…it says that on the seventh day… God rested from all of His creative work…starting a period of time in which God is still not creating…ongoing until the present time…and therefore definitely not a 24-hour day.
The fourth variation of the word day occurs in chapter two…verse 4…which says: “in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”…describing a completely different use of the word day than a 24-hour day.
An additional argument for an old earth dating…is that the words of Genesis chapters one and two give no indication of the lengths of time between the end of day one of creation to the start of day two of creation…throughout all seven days of creation described in the Genesis creation account.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) has no direct correlation to the start of day one of the seven “days” of creation.
An open-minded person could ask: “in the beginning…when was that?” The Bible does not say.
If modern astrophysics tells us that the Big Bang of the universe occurred at 13.7 billion years ago…then human scientific investigation gets a well-deserved pat-on-the-back for using our innate intelligence within the divinely created reality of the orderliness and intelligibility of the natural world…for discovering this critical scientifically fact-based evidence…fixing this “in the beginning” open question at 13.7 billion years.
There is no conflict here between science and biblical scripture on this point.
The totally inaccurate dating of the creation of the earth at 4004 B.C. by Bishop Ussher is understandably excusable…made centuries before the start of the modern science of geology in the early 1800’s with Georges Cuvier, Charles Lyell, and Louis Agassiz…and long before the 1929 discovery by Edwin Hubble of an expanding universe
When interpreted correctly…in my opinion…the Genesis creation accounts in chapters one and two have no conflict with the modern scientific dating of 13.7 billion years ago for the beginning of the universe…4.5 billion years ago for the formation of the earth…and 3.8 billion years ago for the start of primitive life…and is an argument for the divine origin of this wording in Genesis chapters one and two.
Is God under some obligation to reveal all that He knows about the creation of the universe…and the varied life-forms He created prior to mankind?
Or is the extraordinary presence of the orderliness and intelligibility of the natural world enough evidence…that God intended to encourage scientific investigation into the marvels of His creation.
In my opinion…this is part of the pride-filled hubris of humanism…that God must tell us about dinosaurs, mass extinctions, Ice-Ages, geological catastrophes, plate tectonics and continental drift, and the mystery of the origin of life…in the Bible…or He does not exist.
Would a two or three-volume appendage at the start of the Bible…explaining the past billions of years of the existence of the earth…which would still have to be in general terms and not at the level of absolute mathematics, physics, and chemistry…would this be a help or a confusing distraction?
The Bible was written over a 1,500 year span from 1,450 B.C. to around 90 A.D.
The observations in the Bible about the natural world are phenomenal…they are based upon what we observe as phenomenon…the sun rises and sets…a flat plot of ground has four corners. These types of observations make no commitments as to the correct scientific discovery that the earth actually orbits around the sun…or that the earth is not flat but is actually spherically round.
These two examples are absolutely correct phenomenal observations.
The irony in this objection by skeptics that God did not tell us everything about the natural world…upfront in the Bible…is that the natural world is orderly and intelligible by design…so that we can discover these fact-based evidences through the practice of scientific investigation.
With the benefit of an excellent, undergraduate university level history of science class I took a few years ago…plus several decades of studying both sides of the Bible and science/evolution debate…and following closely the roughly two to three decades-old Intelligent Design arguments…I sense along with many Christians…a major shift in the accumulation and direction of the empirical data…and the conclusions this data now point toward.
I must disclose here that my bias and presupposition is for a divine fiat creation by God…ex nihilo…out of nothing…for the universe…and for all living things on the earth…according to the model of the Cambrian Explosion…the subject of the next topic.
From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity.