I get questions like this quite often due to my science background (and my continuing work in science) and my work as a minister. This time, I will go a bit further in my answer than I normally do… and, by so doing, I am sure that I will set the cat amongst the pigeons.
You say you are a scientist and you say you are a Christian. You also claim to believe that God made the world in six days. How can you believe the world was created in 4004BC when everything we can measure in the universe, with carbon dating, etc. show us that the universe is billions of years old and, in fact, the light we see from some stars took millions of years to get here (and so the stars themselves might have already burned out long ago)? How can you be consistent here?
First of all, I always love it when someone says “you claim to…” I can remember a man from the far right of our religious tribe who liked to challenge me to debates, write against me in his little publication, etc. He once called my home and Kami answered. He said, “Is this Patrick Mead’s supposed wife?” Sheesh.
Anyhoo, there are two ways to look at creation that work for me. I don’t believe in billions of years of mindless or guided evolution — so no Darwin or Intelligent Design for me. There are just too many problems with those views and I would be happy to discuss them if enough questioners ask me to. Here are the two ways I can read the creation account and stay true to my beliefs and what I understand about science.
Both ways I read this account, I see the six days as literal days. They are defined that way in the writing (and evening and morning, day one..) and I have no problem with that. Then how can the universe seem so old? The same way that Adam seemed all grown up when he was really just a few hours old. The Bible says that God made the universe all grown up — pre-aged for our convenience. Apple trees, as an example, were mature and had apples on them ready to drop and reproduce. Which came first? we are asked, the chicken or the egg? According to scripture, “a chicken with an egg in it.”
How do we have light coming from stars so far away? Because God created the light along with the stars. Why do we have layers of rock formations? If we are honest, those things are not nearly as cut and dried as they appear in geology textbooks. In fact, the geological column exists nowhere outside of geology textbooks! No place on earth has more than half of the sections/eras and even they are “out of order” so let’s not overplay the geology card. And radiometric dating? There are lots of problems with that (and I can write more if you are interested). Still, if the world and universe were made “ready to use” then resources would be piled up and available. The Flood answers most of the rest of the questions we might have about fossils, extinctions, continental drift, etc.
The other way of reading the creation account that works for me is called — by Gregory Boyd in his excellent, if provocative, book God at War — Restoration Creation. In Boyd’s signature style (tons of scripture, slowly building a solid theological base before moving on to the next point), he argues that the fall of Satan and his angels occurred a long time before our creation. When we enter the story in Genesis One, we find the creation in chaos. In typical OT style, the writer depicts that chaos as stormy seas. This is critical to Boyd’s argument. Most mentions of demonic activity in the OT, whether cosmic, national, or personal, are depicted as waves, storms, deep waters, sinking into the depths, roaring thunder, etc. Leviathan, Rahab, dragons, and gods such as Baal are all depicted as being evil forces behind the storms of our lives (physical, spiritual, and metaphysical). They are also depicted as being in combat with God.
In Daniel 10, Daniel prayed for 21 days straight before the angel appeared before him. He told Daniel that he had left to come to him as soon as Daniel began to pray but that he was resisted by the demons that controlled that nation. Had Michael not come to reinforce their battle, this angel could not have come and spoken to Daniel. And it still took him nearly three weeks to get there. While they talked, other angels show up for the express purpose of guarding the rivers around them — another way of saying they were guarding against demonic incursions and disruptions.
God moves mightily in Genesis and drives back the chaotic seas, establishing dry land. He plants a garden in the middle of His creation and places a man there to care for it and guard it. Yes, the word in 2:15 that is usually translated “dress” or “care for” is the same word used for the action of the fiery cherubs in 3:24 who used their swords to “guard” the garden against those forces outside that wanted in. That was Adam’s failure. He didn’t guard the territory God gave him but, instead, allowed the serpent in.
In Boyd’s view, we come upon the story of this battle long, long after it had been engaged and God’s creation thrown into chaos. Millions and billions of years wouldn’t be too long for this battle for it still continues to this very day. For those who react knee jerk style and say that God would never have been pushed back so far as to lose almost everything before starting all over with the creation of Adam and Eve, I would remind them of the days of Noah when He had only one guy left and the days of Abram when, technically, He didn’t really have even him for the first several years!
To Boyd, this explains the chaos and the vast graveyards of fossils we find even better than does the Flood. It also explains why man was told to “subdue the earth.” We weren’t told to strip mine it! We were being told to fight against the evil forces that wanted to take it back. It also makes Genesis 1:26 more dramatic as God countermoves by saying “let us make man in our image and after our likeness” using the plural. I believe he was talking not only to Jesus and the Holy Spirit but also the righteous angels, veterans of a long war.
This reading removes any seeming conflict between science and scripture. That is something to consider. It allows us to harmonize all the warfare passages in scripture — and there are a ton of them. (While we usually talk about the Fall of Man, scripture rarely mentions it. Instead, scripture spends its time talking about our enemy and the forces arrayed against us. It warns us to watch, sleep not, stay with the group, put our armor on, and stay alert)
When we give our money, time, and lives to the service of God, we are redeeming the world one person, one acre, at a time. Regardless of how you read Genesis, this is certainly our purpose on this planet. And, we are told, at the end of this war, we will be rulers over many things.
For those who are now worried about this warfare motif, I warn you not to swing to the extremes noted by C.S. Lewis — ignoring the devil or focusing on him too much. You might be wondering why God doesn’t just end this thing here and now. Let me give you a very imperfect illustration. Once upon a time, the most advanced nation on earth and the greatest, best equipped, and best trained military on earth was that from the United Kingdom. England ruled the waves! And yet… American farmers defeated them and, in the early 1900s, Irish peasants did the same. The US military is now the best trained and best equipped military on the planet and yet small groups of Taliban, Al Qaeda, etc. can bring them much grief and, if the political will does not hold, defeat. Could the US defeat these nations? Sure! But we would have to go nuclear and turn entire nations into blasted glass by dropping bombs that melted the sand and turned those nations into radioactive no-go areas for hundreds of years.
We are, understandably, quite reluctant to do that. We want to try everything else first. So does God. One day, He will exercise His own version of the nuclear option. Until then, we are at war and should take all due precautions.