Can a literal interpretation of the bible be consistant with an old earth?

In one of my other posts I mentioned (off hand) that Young-Earth Creationists believe in a literal interpretation of the bible, while Old Earth Creationists do not.

Somebody took offense to this characterization and claimed that in fact some Old-Earthers do believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible.

I’d like to delve into that just a bit, to see how such a thing is possible.

First off, let’s define LITERAL.
Main Entry: lit·er·al
1 a: according with the letter of the scriptures b: adhering to fact or to the ordinary construction or primary meaning of a term or expression : actual <liberty in the literal sense is impossible — B. N. Cardozo> c: free from exaggeration or embellishment <the literal truth> d: characterized by a concern mainly with facts <a very literal man>
As you can see a literal interpretation of something implies that it’s true, word for word. For instance if I took Harry Potter to be true in a literal sense, it would imply that I believe not only in magic and wizards, but in the lives of specific characters in Britain.
To accept the bible as literal truth means that everything written in the bible is actual historical fact. So some woman  2000 years ago was the first human ever to give birth without the aid of semen, that kid grew up to be crucified, but only died for a few days, and thena while after that floated up into space to “live” in heaven.

But I don’t really want to focus on that part for now, I’d like to stick to the creation account, since this subject came up talking about creationism. So let’s start with Genesis 1, shall we…

(for the sake of brevity, I’ll only be quoting some bits of the bible, as the passages can get QUITE long. Also, BOLDING of certain parts is mine)

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.
13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.
19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”
So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all[b] the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

So here in Genesis 1 we see that man (well at least 2 of them) were created less than 72 hours after the sun cwas created.

If the universe is (approx) 13.7 BILLION years old,
And if the earth is (approx) 4.5 BILLION years old,
And if the Homo genus did not divde from our common ape anscestor until (roughly) 2 million years ago,
Then it seems hard to accept a LITERAL view of Genesis 1 (72 hours after the sun is created man in created) with a old earth (in which mankind was not created until just about 4.5 BILLION years after the planet.

But let’s see if Genesis 2 clears things up for us.

8 The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.
9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
18 And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.
So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

Here is Genesis 2 we see that god created the garden, then man, then treees, then animals.
In Genesis 1 we saw god created Light, Firmament, Dry Land and Waters, Sun Moon and Stars (makes one wonder what the light was on that first day), Birds and Sea animals, Land animals and man (specifying that man was after tha animals).

Obviously to me this can NOT be taken literally if one accepts an earth of 4.5 BILLION years old.

So I put this to Radrook and any others who accept an old earth AND a literal view of the Genesis: Please explain how both can be accepted as “true”…

[Also posted at JREF forums: Can a literal interpretation of the bible be consistant with an old earth?]


About Rodibidably

Jeff Randall is a frequent volunteer for free-thought organizations, including the Center For Inquiry – DC. Having been blogging since January 2008, he decided that a community of bloggers would be an interesting new experience (or at the very least a fun way to annoy his friends into reading his posts more frequently). Since finding out about about the existence of, and then joining, the atheist/skeptic community in 2007 he has been committed to community activism, critical thinking in all aspects of life, science, reason, and a fostering a secular society.
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3 Responses to Can a literal interpretation of the bible be consistant with an old earth?

  1. Glenn Still says:

    When I say I take the Bible literally, I mean that I interpet it exactly the way it was intended.
    I believe that in the Genisis story when they say day- they mean a period of time. Not any specific period. Like when we say “back in the day of the dinosaur” or whatever.
    I also do not believe that the book of Job was meant to be anything more than a teaching story. It is not history- large parts of the Bible are just that.
    I feel I am a very conservitive Christian. I also know that Jews often did not require the creation story to be taken as science- so why should I?

  2. Rodibidably says:


    So how is somebody to know what is historical fact, and what is not meant to be taken literally?

    For instance, you don’t take Genesis as history, but do you believe that jesus was crucified? Born of a virgin? Walked on Water? etc…
    Did a world-wide flood happen, and noah build a really big boat to save mankind?
    Did god destroy two cities, including all men, women, and children that lived in those cities (except Lot and his two daughters who then raped him)?
    Did Jonah live in a whale (or big fish) for a time, until it puked him out?

    Without some indication of how to take each story, how are we to know what is to be taken as fact, vs what is allegory?

  3. Bob says:

    When I say I take the Bible literally, I mean that I interpet it exactly the way it was intended.
    But who gets to say the intention of the Bible? You? Does any person exist who is perfect enough to really profess the Bible’s intention? It comes down to how one interprets the Bible, whether it will be used to exclude people from God (non-Christians, non-Catholics, homosexuals, etc.) or whether the Word was meant for *all* of mankind, no matter how imperfect we may be…and we are *all* imperfect.

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