The typical traditional Christian belief – at least the publicly stated belief – is that the entire universe was created in six 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago. A recent Gallup Poll shows that 68% of weekly church attenders still believe this short timeline.
The basis for this belief is Genesis 1 – the first chapter in the Bible – which says that God created everything in six 'days,' presumed to be 24-hour calendar days.
Traditional Christians believe that humans have been on earth since the beginning of time (first week).
For centuries, without questioning, this is what children have been taught in Sunday School and adults have been taught from the pulpit.
The universe began with the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Life on earth first appeared about four billion years ago and has been evolving ever since. Some think it all happened by 'natural selection' without God, and others think it happened at God's direction, but all doubters agree that the formation process was longer than six days.
Doubters – like nearly everyone except traditional Christians – believe that humans have come on the scene only relatively recently in the long history of life on earth.
'Stupid' is a harsh word but used often by doubters and unbelievers to express what they think of hard-line Christians with respect to knowledge of science and history.
They can't understand why any educated person today could still believe that humans were already on earth just five days after the Big Bang and lived in same time and place as dinosaurs. They think these kind of Christians must be 'brainwashed' by their church and are probably indoctrinated beyond reason regarding other matters, too.
The primary reason why getting it right about geological time is important is because it reflects on credibility of the Bible in the minds of educated people.
People will think that if the Bible is wrong about when life began, the Bible is probably wrong about other matters, too. If the Bible isn't trustworthy regarding our origin, it isn't trustworthy regarding our destiny either. If Christians don't have it right about physical matters, they probably don't have it right about spiritual matters either.
There are two ways that God reveals truth to us: Nature (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation). What God reveals in nature cannot contradict what he reveals in Scripture, and vice versa, because God does not contradict himself.
Now we encounter the word 'day' (of creation) which seems to cause a major contradiction between what science has proven and what the Bible says. Either (a) science is wrong or (b) the Bible is wrong or (c) our interpretation of the Bible is wrong. Which is it? Finding the answer is the purpose of this Bible study.
God's first creation was light, the primary requirement for life. Light is so amazing that it cannot be defined by anything other than itself. See 1.2.2 for the qualities of light, physically and spiritually. It is the first require meant for life.
About nine billion years passed between Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3.
The Biblical account of creation is seen from perspective of earth. The universe is about fourteen billion years old, but the sun is only about five billion years old. Because of younger age of the sun and earth's intense heat and dense cloud cover, the earth has been in darkness for most of its existence.
The enormous cloud of cooling gasses and dust collapsed over the first nine billion years to form a crust on planet earth.
Violent collisions with comets and asteroids and condensing steam brought water, eventually covering the crust. God created an atmosphere ('expanse') of life-sustaining air between ocean and cloud.
The atmosphere makes earth habitable by absorbing ultraviolet radiation from the sun to warm the earth's surface, bringing rain for vegetation and air for breathing.
As temperature changed on the earth's surface, the thickening crust (floating on molten rock) began cracking, shifting and buckling. Parts of the crust were thrust above water to form dry land.
At first, there was total darkness on earth, but eventually light began to glow through the dense cloud cover and support simple organic life.
Starting with single cell organisms fed by photosynthesis and water, the food chain began in the sea and land about four billion years ago.
The Biblical account of creation is seen from human perspective of land on earth. First life on earth was tiny organisms like bacteria. Then vegetation started at the edges of water and land, spreading and expanding in water and on land. Ancient people would not have understood micro organisms and biological processes, so the Bible skips directly to vegetation they knew.
All celestial bodies were created from the Big Bang, starting as formless spinning gasses, too hot for light to penetrate. It took billions of years for them to merge, cool, solidify and achieve stable orbits.
Eventually there were breaks in the thinning clouds so that the sun, moon and stars became visible from human vantage point. Light existed before Day 4, but the sun had been obscured by dense cloud cover and unable to provide the direct sunlight needed for rapid growth of plants and trees, growing seasons, bird migrations and ultimately for human navigation and schedules.
For centuries the Bible's creation order was used by critics as irrefutable proof that the Bible is not trustworthy. They said it is impossible to have light (Day 1) and organic growth (Day 3) before sun (Day 4). But now that we understand the Big Bang – that most of earth's life has been clouded by vaporized gasses – the creation order shows that the Bible is trustworthy. No writer three thousand years ago could have possibly known this modern science without some direct knowledge from the designer/creator.
With direct sunlight, vegetation proliferated, especially in water, and became an abundant food source for new categories of life – fish and birds – which God created about 500 million years ago.
The above verses in Genesis do not preclude the likelihood that there were already some very simple forms of marine and avian life (as plankton and flying insects). The main point here seems to be that God created an enormous number of new creatures – large complex creatures – all with capacity to move about freely, unlike the stationary life of prior life forms, and God caused them to proliferate rapidly.
This is what scientists call the Cambrian explosion, the quick appearance of a massive amount of new life forms about 500 million years ago. Darwin said that the Cambrian explosion is his own biggest problem with his own theory of evolution. He was perplexed to acknowledge that so many new species of life could appear almost at once.
About 250 million years ago, a new kind of creature appeared, the dinosaurs. We know from archaeology that there were more than 700 species of dinosaurs of all sizes and types – from five pounds to fifty tons – some walked, some swam, some flew – and they dominated the earth for 175 million years.
Scientists now believe that modern birds are descendants of small avian dinosaurs that escaped the mass extinction 66 million years ago. All non-flying dinosaurs and three-fourths of all other species of life on earth were killed in that extinction, caused by an enormous meteorite about six miles wide crashing into the ocean near the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in scorching fires, radioactivity, volcanic eruptions and sun hidden by dust.
Dinosaurs were the dominant part of God's creation in Day 5, but the Bible never mentions them, probably because they went extinct and no one in Bible times could comprehend the time scale or believe that these creatures actually existed.
In Day 5, there was extensive evolution and proliferation of fish and birds throughout the earth, expanding the food chain, getting ready for animals and humans in the next stage of life.
In each successive day, new life forms become more complex: In Day 3, life from seeds ... in Day 5, life from eggs ... in Day 6, live births.
Shortly after the great extinction 66 million years ago, God created a new kind of creature – animals – adapted to the new environment.
Then, about four million years ago – very recent in geological time – God created a very unique kind of intelligent bipedal creatures known as hominids and hominins, with physical form very similar to today's apes and humans, all having 95-97% identical DNA.
The last known hominin population (Neanderthals) was in Europe and vanished suddenly about 30,000 years ago.
The Bible never mentions hominins, probably because they went extinct and because few people in Bible times could comprehend a time span of millions of years or believe that soulless creatures looking somewhat like humans actually existed. The Bible account goes direct from animals to humans.
Archaeological digs reveal the first evidence of humans about 40,000 years ago. Hominins and humans may have coexisted at one time, and apparently there was some interbreeding because today Europeans and Asians have approximately 2% Neanderthal DNA, but other groups have little or none. This low percentage is further evidence that humans did not evolve from hominins.
God said: 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move upon the ground.'
The concluding act of the six days (ages) of creation was creation of humans, made in the likeness of God, not evolved, created with capacity to have a relationship with God and to rule the earth – the crowning jewel of God's creation!
A concluding statement is used to end each of the six days of creation – 'And there was evening, and there was morning – the [number] day' – but not used for the seventh day of rest, meaning that this day has not yet ended. We are still in the seventh day (age).
God is not making new creations during this pause, but procreation and evolution within categories continues. God has equipped humans with a unique body, mind and soul to rule the earth and do creative work to further fashion life on earth.
Other portions of the Bible tell us that in a future day (age), God will take back rule of the earth from humans and will resume new creative work here ... a new heaven and a new earth ... (see 3.4).
The Bible is it's own best interpreter. The deep study on this topic shows, right from the Bible itself, direct from the Genesis 1 creation account, that the word 'yom' should be understood to mean a long indefinite period of time.
Centuries ago, the young earth concept became a part of church creeds. For example, the Westminister Confession (written 1647 but still extensively used) states that the earth was created 'in the space of six days.' Whenever a concept becomes imbedded in formal doctrine in church denominations and seminaries, it becomes almost like heresy within the group to even question it, even in light of new information.
In earlier times – especially hundreds of years ago – it was necessary to travel to specialized libraries in various cities of the world to thoroughly research a subject like this because ordinary libraries did not have the needed books and documents. But now almost all universal knowledge is available to everyone on the Internet, and today we know much more than in years past.
An erroneous interpretation of the ancient Hebrew word 'yom' makes Christians seem uninformed at best, stupid at worst, and this is a handicap in presenting the gospel.
This single Hebrew word 'yom' – investigated in Topic 1.2.1 on this site – has created a huge barrier to Christian faith.
Topic 1.2.1 is a study of the text in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, the biblical account of creation. The study shows that 'day' in this creation context means a long indefinite period of time, a geological age.
Click to see TEN REASONS why creation 'day' is longer than 24 hours:
The Bible gives the order of first appearance of various life forms but does not give actual times or time spans.
The essential order summarized in the table above, from the Bible, is confirmed by cosmologists, geologists, biologists and archaeologists.
It is unlikely that the ancient writer of Genesis could have known this method and sequence without special knowledge from God.
Now modern science is filling in the time blanks, and a re-reading of Genesis 1 opens our eyes to new understanding of God's unfolding master plan.
In the English translation of Genesis 1, each stage of creation is called a 'day'. In the original Hebrew language in which the biblical account was written, the word is 'yom' (pronounced like home).
Just as in English, Hebrew 'yom' usually means a 24-hour period but can also mean a long indefinite period, depending upon context (as we say, this is day of the jet plane, this is the day of social media, etc.).
In 2 Peter 3:8, the Apostle shows how day can be used as a time variable: 'But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.'
Some traditional Christians say that the earth is not actually old but just looks old, that it was created about 6,000 years ago with built-in apparent age. See Micro Topic 1.2.3 for the fatal flaw in the apparent age theory.
'Evolution' is an emotionally charged word for some Christians. It frequently implies a universe that happened by itself from nothing without God, with man as an evolved animal, like in the anti-Christian illustration above, taught in public schools.
Actually, biological 'evolution' just means the process of gradual change that takes place over many generations within God's creation, during which species of plants, animals and other life forms slowly arise, change physical characteristics and eventually die out, all within defined categories and all according to God's dynamic design plan.
More than 99% of all species that have ever lived on earth have died out.
Basically, there are two principal ways people think about evolution:
And, viewed from another perspective, there are two ways people think about theistic evolution:
More than 99% of all species that have ever lived on earth are estimated to have died out. This is clearly evident from archaeological finds, and we now observe hundreds of species dying out every year.
Evolution is a fact of life. Even staunchest traditional Christians believe that there is at least some degree of evolution at work in nature around us. They regard it as 'micro evolution' that operates within small sub-classifications of plants and animals. Some degree of evolution is indisputable, but how much?
Genesis 1 tells where the evolution lines are drawn, corresponding to the 'days,' and it names the categories, as diagrammed above.
Each category is more complex than the one that precedes it ... no life, then life ... reproduction from seeds, then eggs, then live birth ... ultimately humans. Each category is necessary in the food chain for support of the next category.
Common observation confirms that a stone never turns into a bush ... a bush never turns into a fish ... a fish never turns into a bird ... a bird never turns into an animal ... an animal never turns into a human.
The categories are walled. There is evolution within categories, but not between categories.
Humans are becoming larger, stronger and smarter, but the Bible says that humans are not evolving into a higher form of life on earth. The six 'days' (stages) of new creation have ended. Humans are God's crowing creation.
The only thing higher for us is eternal life in a new and better realm of existence, offered through Jesus, as explained throughout this site.
The qualities that most separate humans from animals are NOT evolutionary, such as laughter, music, art, mathematics, language and worship. These qualities are unique to humans, created into us, not evolved into us, and not found in any other creatures.
Man (generic) is not an improved animal. Genesis 1:26 says that God made man in his own image, and we have God-like qualities.
Like God, man is a trinity: body (physical), soul (mind, will and emotion) and spirit (connection to God), to be studied later in Topic 2.5.
Evolutionary theory is limited to body and has no way of coping with soul and spirit, no way of dealing with the total person.
The biblical account of the six 'days' of creation is short and simple, all in the first chapter of Genesis. It was written for and by ancient people who had no understanding of modern science.
The story speaks only about things that were known and observed by them at that time. For example, oceans, lakes, rivers and streams were teeming with plankton then as now, a primary essential ingredient in the marine food chain, but because plankton can be seen only under a microscope, ancients had no idea of their existence; therefore we would not expect the Bible to mention plankton any more than to mention dinosaurs.
The Bible story tells just enough to make the point that God created the earth in six distinct stages.
Even with access to today's vast scientific knowledge, most weekly church attenders still believe that each stage was exactly 24-hours and that it all happened in one week, less than 10,000 years ago. (Gallup Poll has been tracking this for 36 years.)
These same people usually have no trouble believing that continents were formed by shifting tectonic plates (extremely long time!) and that much of the earth's surface was carved by glaciers (extremely long time!). Then how can they reasonably say that all this happened in a week, less than 10,000 years ago? People who try to squeeze God's majestic creation into six calendar days create unnecessary contradictions and barriers to Christian faith.
Plate tectonics. Some things are so large that we don't think of them as evolving. The surface of the earth, for example, is slowly and constantly being reshaped by tectonic plates of crust 5-20 miles thick, floating on molten rock. The sheets collide, cause earthquakes, reshape continents and form mountains. The plates move over vast distances, but at a speed of only and inch or two per year.
Just as evolution works on huge things like tectonic plates and glaciers, so it works on small things like bacteria and coronavirus.
There are now about 10 million species of life on earth that can be seen with the naked eye, but when microorganisms are taken into account, researchers say that the earth might be home to a staggering one trillion species.
Bacteria. Bacteria are the smallest – and perhaps the oldest – creatures on earth. They are single cell, too small to see without a microscope. Bacteria are everywhere, including soil and air. There about 10 trillion bacteria in the human body, and they evolve (mutate) rapidly. Most bacteria are good for the body and essential for human survival, but some (we call them germs) are bad.
Viruses. Even more amazing are viruses, smaller than bacteria; some good, some bad. Unlike bacteria, they do not reproduce by themselves, but they quickly evolve into new forms so that, upon entering a host cell (as a human body), a bad virus can cause the cell to reproduce the intruder's DNA or RNA, resulting in serious infection and disease or even death for the host.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging widely in severity. MERS-CoV, SARS-Cov and COVID-19 are coronaviruses. Because they evolve rapidly – sometimes in hours or days – they can appear suddenly as new deadly species.
For most people, the most disastrous world-changing event in our lifetime thus far is COVID-19 ... the rapid evolution of a single microscopic virus and that fateful day in late 2019 when it first entered a human cell. Pandemic is a current example of evolution.