One of the most prominent old-Earth creation organizations is Reasons to Believe, headed by astronomer Hugh Ross. Ross is an advocate of what is known as the day-age interpretation of Genesis 1-2. In the day-age theory, the days of Genesis 1 are not literal 24-hour days, but represent vastly longer periods of time. Ross advocates (and I wholeheartedly agree) that there is no conflict between belief in the trustworthiness of Scriptures and acceptance of an old age for the Earth.
One criticism of the day-age theory is that, according to some, the events of Earth history don’t match the days as recorded in Genesis. For example, vegetation appears on day three, but the sun isn’t created until day four. How could plants survive for millions of years without sunshine? Ross addresses issues like this, and presents the day-age viewpoint as one that closely matches the 4.5 billion year history of Earth.
A key to this understanding of the relationship between Genesis 1 and science is the idea of point of view. The frame of reference of Genesis 1 is the surface of the Earth, not observing the Earth from somewhere out in space. This is based on Genesis 1:2, which says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (ESV)” We should read the text, according to Ross’s version of the day-age interpretation, from this perspective. The rest of the chapter then unfolds in a logical way. The sun was created sometime in the period covered by verse 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (ESV). Days one through three describe the early differentiation of Earth, with the sun obscured by a translucent atmosphere in the beginning. Light was able to get through the atmosphere, but the sun itself was not visible. The appearance of primitive “vegetation,” i.e. the beginnings of photosynthesis, occurred in this time period. On day four, the sun, moon, and stars appear. They aren’t necessarily created then, but from the vantage point of the Earth’s surface, it seems as though they are. Days five and six describe the appearance of advanced forms of life: creatures of the sea, air, and land.
Reasons to Believe has a nice chart that portrays this sequence:
To many, this illustrates an amazing correlation between Earth history and Scripture, unparalleled in the sacred texts of other religions.
The day-age interpretation is just one of several models that attempts to show that there is no inherent conflict between science and Scriptures. The overall outline presented on this time chart is not affected by whether on not Ross’s understanding of events such as the Cambrian explosion are correct (Ross views the Cambrian explosion as a new creation event).
Some other ways of understanding the opening chapters of Genesis, such the analogical day and framework hypotheses, aren’t as concerned with correlating the days of Genesis 1 with the history of the universe.
I am not committed to any one interpretation of Genesis 1. My main objective here is to point out that there are Biblically-valid alternatives to young-Earth creationism.
Old-Earth creationists, such as advocates of these various positions, accept all of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: The Bible is God’s true revelation of himself, God is the creator of the universe and life, a real Adam, a real fall into sin, real consequences of that sin, and in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only answer to our sin problem. They may differ on the details, but acceptance of an old age for the universe is compatible with the Scriptures, and doesn’t lead to error in any core doctrines of the faith.
To any non-Christians reading this, note that there is no necessary conflict between science and the Bible. If you reject Christianity, it has to be for some reason other than Genesis 1.
Grace and Peace