Why The Calendar Day Interpretation Of Genesis One Is Internally Incoherent.




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

Problem 3: Hitting The YEC Interpretation Where The Sun Don't Shine (Part 2)

Another problem plagues the YEC's Calendar Day interpretation regarding the sun. If the sun truly wasn't created until Day 4, then how could the plants survive on Day 3. In his 2000 debate with Hugh Ross, Kent Hovind argued against the Day-Age view by saying that it's ludicrous to think that plants could exist for millions of years without the sun. Here's an excerpt from that debate: 

"Hovind: Plus I think if you just read the first chapter, you’ll see God made the plants, the grass, and the trees on day 3, He made the sun on day 4, and the Bible says clearly He created the sun. He didn’t just make the light visible. I don’t know where Dr Ross gets this idea that the smoke cleared and all of a sudden they could—the sun was already there. That’s just simply not true. He created the sun—

Ross: Hold on, you’re wrong—

Hovind: Let me finish now. The Hebrew word is very clear there. The six days of—I mean, how long can the plants live without the sun? Plus the insects are made on day five, and they pollinate the plants. Plus animals breathe in oxygen and breathe off carbon dioxide, and plants do the opposite. The idea of these days being long periods of time is just ridiculous."8
 
The implication being that the problem evaporates if one only adopts the calendar day approach. For you see, on Hovind's view, millions of years haven't passed between the creation of plants and the creation of the sun, only a single 24 hour day has. 

Newsflash: plants cannot survive even a day without a sun! And I'm not talking about sunlight. Obviously, plants can survive until morning. I'm talking about the actual existence of a burning ball of gas 93 million miles away from the planet Earth. If the sun were to just up and disappear from our solar system right this instant, all life on Earth would die instantly! It would be a speedy death by freezing! 

So, the problem that Hovind points out with the Day-Age view plagues his own view as well. This suggests that the Callendar Day interpretation is wrong. The Framework Hypothesis and The Cosmic Temple Inauguration view has no problems with the sun being created on Day 4. The Day-Age theory might not be problematic either if Hugh Ross' explanation is tenable.9 

The YEC could adopt Ross' explanation to save their own view as well, but in doing so, they should admit that they are adopting a hypothesis that doesn't jump right out at you. In other words, in saying that Day 4 merely has the sun, moon, and stars becoming visible from the surface of the planet Earth, being previously hidden away by a dense cloud layer, the YEC would be adopting an interpretation that isn't "the plain meaning". The prima facie reading of the text is that God made the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4. 

Problem 4: Too Many Events Occur On Day 6

Richard Deem of GodandScience.org explained this very nicely in one of his articles on the subject. Richard Deem of GodandScience.org wrote:

“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.

Conclusion 

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.


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NOTES 

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/

7: ibid.

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.

Comments

  1. Response to Evan Minton’s Article “Why the Calendar Day Interpretation of Genesis One is Exegetically Untenable”

    As I read the above-named article, I was saddened by the unnecessary characterization of your brothers and sisters in Christ who hold a different interpretation of the passage in question. As a fellow apologist, I was reminded that we are called to defend the truth, not specific interpretations of it. While we may hold differing opinions as to the proper exegesis of a passage, disparaging those who hold different interpretations is unprofitable for the Kingdom.

    While I have neither the desire nor the time to enter into a protracted debate on one interpretation over another, I would like to point out that the interpretation you choose to defend has some serious problems of its own.

    In Problem 1 of your article, you focus on the phrase “Let the earth sprout vegetation” as if it was up to the earth to accomplish this in a natural manner, thus requiring many, many years before this part of creation would reach fruition. First of all, since there was no “natural manner” established at this point in Earth’s history, uniformitarian principles do not apply. If you believe that the phrase “Let the earth bring forth...” means that the earth is the agent through which God will accomplish this, then either the seeds were there when God caused the dry land to appear, or he “planted” them at this point in creation. And yet, the Hebrew construction indicates an abundance of vegetation was created and the phrase “it was so”, which is taken from the Hebrew word ‘kane’ (Strong’s 3651), is commonly used to indicate immediacy as well as causality, and is translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as ‘immediately’ and ‘straightway’. To conclude that a long period of time transpired between “God said, ‘let the earth sprout vegetation’” and “God saw that it was good” is incongruous with the sense of the passage itself.

    When we get to verse 7, we have a reiteration of the creation of man, however, the garden of Eden apparently does not yet exist, so God causes to “spring up” every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. If this was not a supernatural, time-compressed act of God, Adam would have been dead by the time the trees matured enough to provide food to sustain him. And yet verse 15 clearly states that God took the man and put him in (a mature) garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

    Similarly, I must assume that you also believe that the ocean did not “swarm” with sea creatures at creation, but that God simply put within the waters the seminal gene-bearing “seeds” of the swarm that He decreed, and yet His Word says that He created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, and blessed them. If they did not actually exist at that time, what was He blessing?

    In arguing Problems 2 and 3 (light before the sun) you miss some eternal Biblical truths, as well as some obvious linguistic constructions. First of all, the existence of light before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars is completely consistent with what God has done and will do, according to His Word. In Acts 12, a light shines in the prison where Peter is sleeping, although not a word is said about the source of that light and it is obvious that this is supernatural.

    In Revelation 21:23 we find that the New Jerusalem has no need of the sun and moon because its light will emanate from the Lamb of God Himself. Is it so difficult to believe that the Lamb of God, Who is the Creator (Hebrews 1:1,2; 1 Cor. 8:6; John 1:3; Col. 1:16-17; etc.), Who will be the light of the New Jerusalem, was the source of light at creation? You seem to dismiss this concept by conflating the scriptures that metaphorically speak of His truth as light and those mentioned above. This is not good exegesis.

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  2. There are only two things necessary for night and day: a stationary light source illuminating the earth and earth’s rotation. In verses 1-3 of Genesis 1, the darkness is present first (verse 2) followed by the light (verse 3) - evening and morning - the first day. If we assume that the rotation of the earth is present at creation (which would seem a reasonable assumption). Then the earth would experience evening and morning due to its rotation, as long as the source of light is stationary. When the sun and moon are created, they become a new source of light, but the rotation of the earth continues and evening and morning continue as well. Is it unreasonable to think that an omniscience, omnipotent God would provide what His creation needs (light, heat, planetary rotation) during the time He is creating? If your answer is “yes, it is unreasonable”, then your concept of God is too small.

    As to Problem 4, (Too much happening on day 6), what makes you think that the account of Genesis 2:8ff happened on day 6? This could all have happened later than the rest of creation. There is no mention of time periods after Genesis 2:3 and man already exists.
    If you take Moses’ comments in 1:27-28 as a retrospective summary of mankind’s creation rather than the specifics of the creation of Adam and Eve, the problem goes away. The word “a-dawm” in the Hebrew is a word that represents not just a single man, but mankind in general as we see in much of the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 6). Certainly, Moses is not giving the amount of detail of Adam’s creation that we see in Genesis 2, so it is reasonable to see verses 27-28 and following as referring to Adam in the sense that he is the federal head of all of mankind. Thus, naming of the animals, the actual creation of Eve, etc. could well have been after the 7th day, just as the temptation in Genesis 3 is later.

    If you consider the naming of the animals to have taken place on the sixth day, you have another problem. What animals? 2:19 clearly states that God had formed the animals out of the ground (Hebrew: a-dawm-ah) (Gen 2:19) which is exactly how He formed Adam (Hebrew: a-dawm) (Gen 2:7). Thus, by the language of the passage itself, if we take Genesis 1:24 to indicate that the animals developed at a “natural” rate, and God formed Adam the same way, how can we reconcile these two concepts? Did Adam develop at a “normal” rate out of the ground? Or did God miraculously create the animals, just as He created Adam miraculously?

    I think that if you are going to develop an apologetic to support a different interpretation of Genesis 1-2 than the Calendar Day view, you should concentrate on showing positive reasons to believe another exegetical position, rather than trying to tear down competing interpretations.

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  3. This was posted on Facebook, so this was my comment under it:

    1. Are you kidding me that the writer of the article can't think that trees can't sprout in a day at all in light of supernatural intervention or that there is no possible way it can't.

    Because we've already done this scientifically where we have massively accelerated plant growth.

    2/3. The sun was only necessary to measure time for man, not God. He says on each day, the morning and evening.

    "If the sun were to just up and disappear from our solar system right this instant, all life on Earth would die instantly! It would be a speedy death by freezing! "
    This is possibly the stupidest sentence I have ever read. Because it simply is not true. A simple Google search would have helped immensely, here I will do it for you: https://www.google.com/search?q=if+the+sun+disappeared+how+long+would+it+take+for+us+to+freeze&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-1-ab

    4. There were too many things happening on Day 6
    The events you mentioned didn't all happen on Day 6. What only happened on day 6 was creation. Adam tending it is clear from Genesis 2 to be after Day 6.

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    1. And yes, I know you addressed the speed issue, which you state "Yes. But does the text say that?"
      It *doesn't* say it sprouted in a normal speed either. Whatever normal speed is.

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  4. There are several problems with this post Evan, some of your claims are just incorrect. But the main issue is that you are rejecting a literal hermeneutic (YEC) because you subscribe to a hyper-literalistic one.

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  5. I should clarify that in the fourth paragraph of my first post I was referring to Genesis 2:7.

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  6. Interesting article, sir. I Wonder about point one specifically. You stated, "Trees Don't Grow In A Day". Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the argument, it is also true that men don't rise from the dead. My point is that we ought to be careful not to adopt naturalistic assumptions which undercut the very heart of the faith.

    Just food for thought.

    Grace, mercy, and peace be with you.

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    1. The argument doesn't assume naturalism, it simply makes an inference based on what the text says. The text says "LET THE EARTH bring forth..."
      we know how long it takes for the Earth to bring forth fruit trees. Now, had the text said "And God said, 'Let there be trees!' and there was", then the argument wouldn't work. Yet, the text doesn't say that. It says that God commanded the earth to bring the trees forth.

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