14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
I, like many Christians, have always struggled with correlating the creation story in Genesis with science. So I, like many Christians, tended to avoid the subject altogether, for the most part. Lately, in our very divided political climate, the controversial relationship between science and religion seems to be flaring up with more regularity. Many in the current Republican leadership, including Vice President Pence, have been proponents of teaching creationism in public schools. Many Christians believe that some element of intelligent design should be allowed to be taught as another theory along with evolutionary science. There is, perhaps, room for debate about such things among level-headed people, however, some on the right have begun to push even further, suggesting that theory of young earth creationism should find its way into schools. Recently, some Republicans have made it known that they subscribe to the belief that the earth may be only about 6,000 years old. This idea has been pushed quite heavily in the last couple decades, perhaps most famously by an Australian named Ken Ham. Ham’s organization is called Answers in Genesis. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars building museum attractions in Northern Kentucky, including a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark in addition to their large Creation Museum. These attractions have proven quite popular among Christian tourists but have drawn much criticism from the secular world, particularly in light of the fact that the state of Kentucky provided a huge tax incentive for the building of the Ark attraction prompting protests about a breach of separation of church and state.
I have no real qualms about the creation museum or the Noah’s Ark attraction, except for the tax issue. I do not think public funds should be involved in any religious propaganda, be it my religion or anyone else’s–I’m completely certain that the Constitution speaks quite clearly about that. But I do have a doctrinal issue with the young earth portion of the message being taught in the process because, apparently, it is sticking with a significant portion of people, including some of those in public office.
While there is room for interpretation in evolutionary science–which, itself, is always in the process of evolving–I don’t see any way to make a reasonable case for a 6,000-year-old earth. I actually cringe when I hear any Christian promote the idea because it does nothing but damage the image of Christianity as a whole. Doubtless, when some people hear a Christian insist that the earth is 6,000 years old, they write off anything else that comes out of that Christian’s mouth as lunacy.
For a while, I looked into all the possibilities, including what Ken Ham would claim, that God could have made an “old looking earth.” I suppose anything is possible, but I just can’t buy that. As a historian, I know that we have enough solid evidence for human history dating back farther than 6,000 years. It just doesn’t add up. Why damage the message of Christianity by insisting on a completely literal six 24-hour day creation time?
So I began looking at the creation story in Genesis more closely and I found the key to help me manage that story within the scope of evolutionary science.
The whole thing, to me, pivots on the 4th day of creation. God created light on “day” one but He only created light, not our current source of light, the sun. According to Genesis, the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the 4th “day.”
Without the sun, there is no such thing as a 24-hour day or a 365-day year. Our entire understanding of how to measure time requires the sun. So why, oh why, are some people insisting on this whole young earth business? Doing so will may appeal to a few, but it will drive many away from your message.
Why can’t we just accept what we don’t know, excercise our faith, and allow room for science to work within the unknowable timeframe provided in the story of Genesis. Since the Sun wasn’t created until “day 4” of creation, all bets are off as to how long the span of time those “days” actually was–was it enough time to allow for mountains to rise and wear away, seas to form and dry up, canyons to be carved out, organisms to evolve, thrive, and become extinct, humans to develop, etc.?
Science isn’t any more perfect than the men and women who practice it. We will never know with certainty what happened “in the beginning” but surely we can an agree that the beginning was more than 6,000 years ago–please…can’t we?