Upfront: I am not a Christian. I accept evolution, and the point of this article is not to defend creationism. Rather, it’s intended to rebuff moderate Christian apologetics concerning the Genesis account of creation.
It is sometimes claimed by apologists that Genesis is not meant to be taken at all literally, but in fact closely lines up with (and is a metaphorical description of) the actual processes now understood to have resulted in the formation of the universe, the Earth and life on it. (This defense does not extend to the creation stories of other religions, which Christians are content to dismiss as simply incorrect.)
However, Genesis asserts that the Earth existed before the sun, trees and other land vegetation before sea creatures and birds before land animals. The order itself is wrong, and it’s never been explained what is metaphorically conveyed by getting the order wrong which could not have been conveyed while keeping the order accurate. Yes, there’s an alternate creation narrative present in Genesis, but that gets the order wrong too.
It’s very telling that each day’s worth of creation events is followed by “the evening and morning” of the next day according to scripture, things that literal days have which “indeterminate periods of time” do not. On top of which Genesis 1:4–5 defines what a yom/day is and what distinguishes it from night, making it very clear from the context that they intended ‘yom’ to mean a literal day rather than ‘eon’ or something.
Further frustrating efforts to misrepresent Genesis as purely metaphorical, the genealogy provided early in the OT traces all the way back to Adam and Eve. Unless we’re to believe that genealogy is metaphorical (whatever that could possibly mean) this confirms that they believed Adam and Eve were real people from whom mankind descended, and by extension that Genesis accurately describes how humans came into existence.
It can (and does) have additional metaphorical layers of meaning on top of that, but they aren’t free license to dismiss the fact that the literal meaning underneath is factually incorrect, yet supposedly the product of divine revelation.
To recap: Yes, the Hebrew “yom” can mean an indefinite period of work, but it can also mean a literal day. To figure out which was meant, we should examine the context. In the context of Genesis 1:4–5 where God creates separates day (yom) from night, and the evening and then morning of the first day follows, it’s quite clear the authors were referring to literal days which are light out and have evenings/mornings rather than indefinite work periods which don’t:
“3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.”
To expand on the fourth paragraph, the genealogy provided later traces back to Adam and Eve as literal ancestors. This by extension confirms that the story of Adam and Eve in the garden is something ancient Jews and later Christians sincerely believed to have occurred.
Indeed, if it didn’t occur then Adam never incurred original sin by eating of the tree. Which means we did not inherit original sin and Christ died for nothing on the cross. A literal Genesis account is a load bearing pillar, without which the rest of Christian theology collapses.
On top of all this, the authors of scripture were very clear that they believed nature is obviously the work of a designer. In Romans they express the opinion that there’s no excuse for not believing in a creator, because when you look around you at nature, it is unmistakably the handiwork of a vast intelligence:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
This is a big topic in itself though, which I will devote an article to later.
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