The Biblical scholar Meredith Kline, writing over 50 years ago likewise noted that reading the creation days in Gen 1 as a consecutive sequence of events places it in direct conflict with Gen 2:
[It] was the work of the “third day” that the waters should be gathered together into seas and that the dry land should appear and be covered with vegetation (Gen. 1:9-13). All this according to the theory in question transpired within twenty-four hours. But continents just emerged from under the seas do not become thirsty land as fast as that by the ordinary process of evaporation… “The results, indeed, approach the ludicrous when it is attempted to synchronize Gen. 2:5 with Genesis 1 interpreted in terms of a week of twenty-four-hour days. On that interpretation, vegetation was created on what we may call “Tuesday”. Therefore, the vegetationless situation described in Gen. 2:5 cannot be located later than “Tuesday” morning. Neither can it be located earlier than that for Gen. 2:5 assumes the existence of dry land which does not appear until the “third day”. Besides, would it not have been droll to attribute the lack of vegetation to the lack of water either on “Sunday” when the earth itself was quite unfashioned or on “Monday” when there was nothing but water to be seen?
“Hence the twenty-four-hour day theorist must think of the Almighty as hesitant to put in the plants on “Tuesday” morning because it would not rain until later in the day! (It must of course be supposed that it did rain, or at least that some supply of water was provided, before “Tuesday” was over, for by the end of the day the earth was abounding with that vegetation which according to Gen. 2:5 had hitherto been lacking for want of water.”1
Irrespective of whether one interprets the days as six consecutive 24 hour periods or six ages, the scientific and Biblical evidence make either option hard to honestly accept. Young Earth Creationism is of course invalidated by the overwhelming evidence for an ancient earth. Old Earth Creationism in its concordist guise may well appear to be a better reading of both nature and Bible, but as Young notes, the lack of a consensus among its advocates is damning:
A review of 300 years of literalistic and concordistic harmonizations between the biblical text and the results of empirical geological study shows that there has been absolutely no consensus among evangelical Christians about interpretation of the details of the biblical accounts of creation and the flood or about texts such as Psalm 104, Proverbs 8, or other wisdom literature that bear on the creation, the flood, or the physical character of the earth. There has not been a Christian consensus about the identity of the great deep, about the firmament, about the waters above and below the firmament, about what happened on the fourth day of creation, about the sequencing of events and their matching with the geological evidence, or about the nature of the fountains of the great deep. Given this history of extreme variation of understanding of these various elements of the biblical text, it is unwise to insist that the teaching of the biblical text on any of these matters is “clear and plain” or that one’s own interpretation is obviously what the biblical text has in mind.2
The problem with YEC and OEC readings of the creation narratives is that they simply assume God is telling us how He created the universe, and forget that Genesis was not written originally for us, but for a community who lived thousands of years ago in a pre-scientific culture with presuppositions markedly different to ours. In short, we need to read Genesis through Ancient Near Eastern eyes, not our own. Young notes:
I suggest that we will be on the right track if we stop treating Genesis 1 and the flood story as scientific and historical reports. We can forever avoid falling into the perpetual conflicts between Genesis and geology if we follow those evangelical scholars who stress that Genesis is divinely inspired ancient near eastern literature written within a specific historical context that entailed well-defined thought patterns, literary forms, symbols, and images. It makes sense that Genesis presents a theology of creation that is fully aware of and challenges the numerous polytheistic cosmogonic myths of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the other cultures surrounding Israel by exposing their idolatrous worship of the heavenly bodies, of the animals, and of the rivers by claiming that all of those things are creatures of the living God. The stars are not deities. God brought the stars into being. The rivers are not deities. God brought the waters into existence. The animals are not deities to be worshipped and feared, for God created the animals and controls them. Even the “chaos” is under the supreme hand of the living God. Thus Genesis I calmly asserts the bankruptcy of the pagan polytheism from which Israel was drawn and that constantly existed as a threat to Israel’s continuing faithfulness to the true God of heaven and earth.3
Young is correct in emphasising the polemical nature of the creation narratives, and this provides a far more satisfying way of resolving the tension between science and the creation narratives. In hindsight, there is no reason for us to expect the narratives to have (anachronistically) adopted modern standards of historiography in providing a scientifically accurate account of creation. At the risk of simplification, Genesis is more concerned with who created the world and why it was created, rather than how the task was done.
The OT makes no secret of the fact that the orthodoxy of ancient Israel was under constant threat from the surrounding cults, particularly Baal, so a creation story that directly challenged the authority of these cults – a polemic – would arguably be more useful to preserving the faith of Israel.