What biblical reasons are there to accept the scientific view of the earth as billions of years old?

Since I first came to this BioLogos Forum on June 23rd, I have learned through my interactions with many of you how to better focus my questions so that I have the best chance to solve the problem I originally came here to solve. The question above is the latest result of that refining process.

If I am asking you for biblical reasons to accept a 4 billion-year-old (4BYO), you might want to first ask me, “For what biblical reasons would you reject it?”

There are essentially two biblical obstacles that currently prevent me from accepting the idea that the earth is 4.543 billion years old as determined by modern scientists.

  1. Six Days: Three separate passages (Gen 1-2; Ex 20:11; Ex 31:17) state that creation was accomplished in six days, followed by a day of rest. Since both the earth and the first human were created during that week, and since the Bible’s genealogies trace back to him, the age of the earth would number in the thousands of years. Even if there were some gaps in the genealogies, it would only extend this time line by, at most, thousands of years - not billions.

  2. The Day of Rest: The three passages mentioned above (especially Genesis 2:1-3) states that God rested - that is, ceased - from the work of creation because He had completed it. Yet inherent in the scientific view of a 4BYO earth is a creation that is progressive and has never ceased.

I hesitated before identifying and describing these two obstacles I face because much of this ground has already been worked in the previous questions I have asked and I see no reason to re-hash any of that. (I most certainly don’t want us to digress into the typical OEC-YEC back and forth. If AIG, ICR, CMI, and all the rest surrendered and folded up their tents tomorrow, I would still face the two obstacles I listed above. Therefore, I did not come here to defend their views.) However, if I’m asking you pointedly to tell me what biblical reasons there are to accept a 4BYO earth, I think I owe it to you to tell you pointedly why I don’t just accept it as I accept so many other things scientists tell me without first requiring biblical warrant. For example, I do not feel the need for biblical warrant to believe that we are all flying through space on a ball spinning at 1,000 mph, revolving around the sun at 66,000 mph, and flying together with it through the Milky Way at 432,000 mph without windburn or even chapped lips…and the reason is because I see no biblical obstacle to believing scientists when they tell me such things. The age of the earth is a different matter.

There is yet another reason I have specified what I see as the biblical obstacles to accepting a 4BYO earth. It is that there are two possible ways for me to get past these obstacles. One would be to receive a different understanding these biblical passages. The other would be to receive an understanding of some other biblical passages that overrides them. In either case, the new understanding must be one I can accept in good conscience, not just one that makes it convenient for me to accept a 4BYO earth.

Let me hasten to tell those of you who don’t know me, and remind those of you who do, it will be a waste of your time and mine for you to post here about the scientific evidence for a 4BYO. It will be a waste because 1) my knowledge of science is unusually weak, which limits my ability to understand anything communicated to me in those terms, and 2) I am already fully convinced that scientists have strong physical evidence for believing in a 4BYO earth. It is my allegiance to the Bible as the word of God, not my distrust of scientists, holding me back from believing in a 4BYO earth. I cannot simply disregard the Bible on this issue, I must have a different way of understanding it that I can in good conscience adopt. So far, every one I’ve been presented would require a compromise of conscience for me to accept. The proliferation of biblical interpretions crafted to accommodate a 4BYO earth indicates I’m not the only one who hasn’t found a lasting and satisfying biblical answer to this problem.

Hoping this long-winded explanation of the question has been helpful, I ask you, “What biblical reasons are there to accept the scientific view of the earth as billions of years old?”

P. S. As for comments on any of my previous questions, I plan from this point forward to only respond to those that have direct bearing on this question. Sorry if that will leave some of you hanging, but I don’t have billions of years to do this - or even thousands.

Hi Mike! And here I am at 4:50 Am my time!

Before we get to the meat of what you’re asking, we need to cover the basics of your interpretation of Scripture. You’re asking for “Biblical” reasons, so we must start there! You take the “Traditional” view, which I did for many years. A change had to occur in my understanding of what Genesis was before I could understand the arguments here. I was gone from the Forum here for 31/2 years as I was not then prepared to embrace this interpretation fully, and now only recently returned.

The first object is "what is the meaning of day in Genesis chapter 1.
If you are accepting Genesis 1 is a factual accounting of a material creation, then you are limited to that interpretation. The only way to go beyond that is to see that the “Original Text” written by the originally inspired author (through Holy Spirit) was written To ancient Israelites (or verbally passed by storytelling narrative until written by Moses) However, it was written FOR us in all ages since then.

As John Walton explains in both his “Lost World” books, the Genesis account is an Ancient Near-Eastern document. Written to them. It has all the language, idioms, word plays, and narrative cues common to a verbal society in ancient times.

If I was to say to you, “in the day of Richard Nixon” what does that mean? A 24 hour day? Of course not. It means a period of time relating to the years of his terms of office and the Watergate scandal. The usage of the word day (and week) is a functional word concerning the ANE’s common usage of a time period where some kind of relationship was established between a person (mankind) and the world around him. The usage of days and weeks is a common storytelling narrative “structure” used to place the ideas firmly in the minds of the listeners. As a child did your ever recite sing-song the ABC’s as “A, B, C, D, E, F, G, tell me what you think of me!” and get a reply from gramma “Oh what a good boy you are!.” That’s the kind of thing verbal cultures do!

Walton’s work is based on the translations of hundreds of pieces of ANE creation texts from the surrounding cultures. Only now with the aid of digital processing, the hundreds of clay tablets mouldering away in archeological storage have been translated and now available. From those we see that the Genesis account is both very similar, yet has some very important distinctive differences. While the narrative structure of the account is similar, and common to the era, it also does not include a war in the deeps of pre-creative time, the enslavement of humans to do the work of the gods, the corrupt human-like attributes of the gods, the use of blood, mud and semen, and so forth as the creative material.

In prior generations the inspired scripture, and Biblical scholars were working from within their own cultural understanding, they wrote and thought according to their cosmology (how things in the cosmos work). God allowed his scripture to be passed down in that manner. The earth was a disk with a solid sky held up by pillars. Somebody posted a picture of traditional ancient Hebrew cosmology on one of the topics. I can’t find it right now).
There was nothing wrong with that, it is the way the world works.

The problem is that we, all of us who live in these times think in a material How manner. It is inbred into us from everything we see, feel, and learn. We know the earth is round, we know what gravity is, we know that there is space and planets, and that the earth appears old just by looking at a road cut.
and all of us “know” a Genesis day was 24 hours because the Bible says so.

So to not prolong what you have already read on this forum, think about this before we engage in further discussion on the relative age of the earth versus scripture. If you can’t wrap your head around an ANE Genesis, then you will not get there by arguing the science against scripture as you know it.

Please take this from somebody who has been reading your questions ever since I came to the Forum. And read my prayer I just posted at My Prayer

Ray :sunglasses:



I think you have boxed yourself into a corner (maybe even two corners!), with no way out:

You say you are looking for a Biblical reason to accept Old Earth… rather than a logical reason.

To my view, this is no different from a person looking for a Biblical reason to reject the literal existence of heavenly warehouses full of snow and hail (as per Job)… even if God only maintained these heavenly structures until the time of Jesus!

And yet, by your own words, you have adamantly insisted that you can interpret this impossible scenario described in Job as figurative narrative.

To an objective party, the difference in the way you treat Genesis and Job has no justification or explanation.

In the face of expert witnesses (and not due to your own witness of either Young Earth Creation or of the temporary use of heavenly buildings), you reject modern Old Earth evidence … but you accept the idea that God would not have even temporarily used warehouses in the sky.

In short, Mike, nobody can help you out of this inconsistency. There is no Biblical language or clue which reveals Job as any more figurative than the Genesis tale (and a whopper it is).

Indeed, there are good Biblical reasons to treat Job more seriously than Genesis:

  1. Unlike Job, we know for a fact that Creation in Genesis 1 has no human witneses;
  2. Unlike Job, God has nothing to lose if Creation really took longer than 6 days - - in contrast, in Job, God specifically brings up the heavenly warehouses as evidence of Job’s state of ignorance (perhaps as evidence of the modern reader’s ignorance as well!). While God asks nobody to accept the 6 day language as literal history, God does implicitly require acceptance of his “treasuries” discussion - - since he is using the discussion as part of a long list of evidences for Job’s human ignorance!

Since you have made or found no reason to accept the relative strength of Job’s discussion, compared to the relative vulnerabilities of Creation language in Genesis (No human witness of what God said it did, no statement by God using Creation as evidence of humanity’s relative state of ignorance)… I must conclude that the reason for your dilemma is your mind’s use of emotion to buttress its position.

There is no Biblical or Philosophical remedy.

[This post has been edited by author for appropriateness.]

@Mike_Gantt wrote:

For example, I do not feel the need for biblical warrant to believe that we are all flying through space on a ball spinning at 1,000 mph, revolving around the sun at 66,000 mph, and flying together with it through the Milky Way at 432,000 mph without windburn or even chapped lips…and the reason is because I see no biblical obstacle to believing scientists when they tell me such things.

Not too many centuries ago the vast majority of extremely knowledgeable people did see exactly just such biblical warrant to reject a moving earth, Mike. So when you follow this with …

It should give you great pause to wonder why. How is it that you so casually dismiss all the former biblically-grounded objections to a moving earth?

But then you go on to write:

This sounds like a “pre-dismissal” of any answers you might receive here. You appear to be demanding something from the Bible that doesn’t exist: some explicit endorsement of a modern scientific concept; i.e. deep-time.

Nonetheless, here is a small but significant (to me) clue about a commended biblical attitude toward creation. In the Old Testament we see at several points (such as in Genesis 8:22 or in Psalm 19) a presumption that it is good and appropriate for us to observe creation as a parallel testimony of God’s faithfulness. Of course this isn’t even close to any endorsement of some specific modern science, but it is an endorsement of our attentiveness to, and learning from creation. They did it then (Paul and Jesus both presumed people had a store of extra-biblical knowledge to draw upon), and we do now. It will be these general kinds of biblical leadings that (coupled with the also biblical conviction that God is a God of Truth) impels the believer toward these attitudes.

edited to add clarity and remove some of my pessimism


My Problem Is Not “Day”- It’s “Six Days”

I pray that we do not descend into arguments about yom. Please recall something I said in the original post above:

Arguing about “yom” is an example of that “back and forth.” I have heard Herb Ross and Ken Ham (as well as others) argue indefatigably about whether “day” in Genesis 1 can mean “an indefinite period of time” or must mean “a 24-hour day” - and it is not an argument I wish to participate in or hear again. I certainly don’t want to read it here.

I am wide open to the possibility of a “day” of creation being an indefinite time period. I have no problem, for example, reading in Genesis 1 that God did such and such on such and such day and thinking to myself, “This could either mean a 24-hour day or an indefinite period of time.” Therefore, “day” is not the obstacle of which I speak; rather, the first biblical obstacle (enumerated above in the original post) preventing my acceptance of a 4BYO earth is “six days” - and this problem is independent and separate from the controversy over yom. Please read again and consider carefully what I wrote above in the original post.

The reason I say that my issue is “six days” and not “day” is that with the “six days” in the passages I mentioned, the issue exists regardless of whether you consider “day” to mean 24 hours or an indefinite period of time. If you’ll just think through what “six indefinite periods of creating” followed by “one indefinite period of ceasing that creating” means if you interpret Ex 20:11 and Ex 3:17 in that way, you’ll see what I mean. No matter how long those indefinite periods are, you’re still stuck with a time line for humanity in the thousands of years.

It also does not matter whether you consider the seventh indefinite time period to be over or still in progress. Since all references to it are past tense, you know it has commenced - which means the sixth day has to be over. All the genealogies are tied to the man created on the sixth day, the thousands-of-years time frame is maintained in spite of the fact that “day” was interpreted to mean “indefinite” instead of “24 hours.”

Therefore, know that I have no problem with the fact that “day” can work just as well in “the day of the Lord” or “in Richard Nixon’s day” as it can in the one that is counted as 24 hours. Let us therefore not re-fight “the battles of yom” - let us leave those fights for others.

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Thanks very much for your reply.

As far as how long is meant by “day,” please see my separate post in this thread on Six Days.

As far as Walton, I appreciate his bringing in more of the ANE context. However, I do not understand how he uses it to, practially speaking, turn the Bible into a book that has nothing to say about material origins. Do you think I’m exaggerating? Read this excerpt from a BioLogos article of his:

The age of the earth is a material issue not addressed in a functional account. Likewise, if Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins, the Bible offers no account of material origins. If that is the case, then empirical science could not possibly offer a view of material origins that we would have to reject in defense of the Bible.

I can hardly believe what I’m reading here. You could argue that his “the Bible offers no account of material origins” is meant narrowly to refer only to Genesis 1-2…however, he goes on to say “emperical science could not possibly offer a view of material origins that we would have to reject in defense of the Bible” indicating that he regards the Bible as completely silent on the subject of material origins! That’s certainly one way to solve the problem. However, I cannot in good conscience - or even with a straight face - say “the Bible has nothing to say about material origins.”

I actually appreciate, and have been edified by, Walton’s ANE work, but I don’t see how it’s mutually exclusive to biblical references to material origins - that is, I don’t see how the one disallows the other. The functional and material don’t strike me as mutually exclusive in every case.

As for your “How-Why” framework, I like it. It reminds me of the also helpful “The bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go” line. Nonetheless, such frameworks can only be taken so far before they breakdown. The Bible has plenty to say - in historical, not scientific, terms - about how our redemption was planned and accomplished. And scientists do actually explain to us why a lot of things happen - though not, admittedly, in the ultimate ontological context of which you speak.

You and Walton seem to be in complete agreement that the Bible has nothing to say about material origins. I just don’t see how to get there.

I sent you the Landscape study. The John Chapter 3 analysis refers to the only place I see the material creation in Genesis 1:1-2. After that, no.

I am not saying it is easy. That is one of the reasons I was absent from this forum for years. I couldn’t either. Then one day it seemed to fit. I went back and read Walton again, and it just flowed.

You are working against a lifetime of interpretive programming (not in a bad way, just the way it is).
Imagine living during Newton’s time and the Heliocentric world view. Or more recently, the whole generation of Geological Scientists who had to literally die before plate tectonics finally took hold in the early 1960’s. This is a human process regardless of being science or religion!

Prayer and constant reading the Scriptures interspersed with these forums is a sound means of processing this. Too much of the forum without reflection is not good. I feel like you’re trying too hard to “blast” your way through this issue. Perhaps you should let up on the volume of discourse and spend some time reflecting and letting Holy Spirit guide you. It worked for me, though it took years.

With respect, Ray :sunglasses:

Mike, I can only speak to my experienc in looking at your question. When faced with the different views of age, and how they relate to the Bible, the overwhelming factor was the nature of God. Ultimately, it comes down to your relationship with God, and if you believe in his goodness and grace. If so, and if you believe his word, you accept that he is truth, and will not decieve.
As Matthew wrote
9 Or what man is there among you [f]who, when his son asks for a loaf, [g]will give him a stone? 10 Or [h]if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake,

So, when we see something in nature we can assume it is true, because God said it is. Therefore, if it is in conflict, the conflict is in our interpretation.

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I don’t see “biblical” and “logical” as mutually exclusive. Rather, I would say that while all that is logical is not necessarily biblical, all that is biblical is necessarily logical.

Are you suggesting that if we regard “storehouse” in Job 38:22 to be a metaphor, we should be allowed to extract no more meaning from Genesis 1-2 than “God did it”? If so, your rule contends for “mother of all non sequiturs.” If “storehouse” is a metaphor, it has meaning to convey. What then is the meaning conveyed by all the “metaphors” you see in Genesis 1-2?

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And in this case I think we can also say that just because you cannot help me (and you certainly can’t if your view of the biblical creation account is “the Genesis tale (and a whopper it is)” - for we must share the common view that Scripture comes through men from God and cannot be broken in order for you to help me - it does not mean that no one here can.

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I wouldn’t begin to demand they apply to all cases. But in Genesis 1-2 it is the only interpretation that remains true to the original text. And that is where the authority of an inerrant scripture resides. The English translations of the Bible are at a three-thousand year line of textual transmission after inerrant Moses. The hermeneutics is only now being rethought in the last few years by Biblical scholars. It takes time for that to work down through the system into the lives of the believers.

Each significant Bible Translation has gone through this. The last major one was the KJV in the 1600’s. I think its about time a new sea-change in translations will occur. And the people raised on the King James, and the YEC, and so forth, will have to pass on for a new generation to seize the reigns. Saying that, they are faithful, believing, loving, caring individuals, whose only mishap is to live in the days where the interpretation of the inerrant scripture is getting revised by Holy Spirit according to Elohim’s foresight.

I need to go eat breakfast. Talk later: Ray :sunglasses:

Our interpretation of nature…or our interpretation of the Bible?

I have often wondered why.

I’m not at all casual about the matter. As I said, I’ve given significant thought to it…and still do from time to time, because it’s a question that deserves much thought.

Not at all. Rather, I’m conveying that I’ve done some work before coming here and asking questions. I’m not asking others to do my homework for me.

Gave me a chuckle. Thanks.

Part of what I do in my classes is have the students read through the Genesis account, making a list of what happens on each day. The reason I do this is that we often determined what meaning to go with for a particular word based upon its local, and then global context (with non-local or Scriptures from over the Bible). Side note: I personally extended my own study to other creation accounts from the ancient near east to see how they thought of creation.

So we begin on Day 1 and work our way through Day 6 asking if there is any indication of how long various events took. Most of the events it is hard to say, like we can’t say ‘oh I know just how long it would take God to separate expanse from expanse.’ One interesting day though is day 3 where God commands the Earth to produce vegetation–verse 12 is very particular which reads something like:

The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.

This is the first thing that provides some context to how to understand what a ‘day’ is supposed to mean. You can ask, why does the text tell us that the Earth produced vegetation, especially noting that they were seed-bearing plants. How long does that process usually take? It is an interesting question I think, and it would be reading something into the text to somehow force it to say that this process was supernaturally quick on ‘day’ 3. This type of language is strongly similar to Psalm 90, which is attributed to Moses:

3 You return mankind to the dust,
saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.”
4 For in your sight a thousand years
are like yesterday that passes by,
like a few hours of the night.
5 You end their lives; they sleep.
They are like grass that grows in the morning—
6 in the morning it sprouts and grows;
by evening it withers and dries up.

There is a lot there to unpack but I will leave it to you and others to decide. There isn’t much else in terms of a time marker other than all the stuff that is packed into day 6-
God creates land animals (could be quick), God makes man (could be quick), God puts man in the garden, God plants a garden (where the trees and such grow out of the ground), God again makes the birds and land animals (a second time?) and the man names all of them (how long would that take?), did the man do any work on this day in the Garden as well? (there’s only 24 hours to work with here :open_mouth:) , the man needs to realize that he’s lonely (did the man enter into a state of loneliness after just a few hours?), the Lord knocks the man out with anesthesia and does a surgery making the woman (this probably took at least a few seconds), the man has a deep emotional response and bursts forth in poetic glory (it takes me a lot of agony before I burst forth in poetic beauty at the lifting of my agony but maybe that’s just me), God also gives them the creation mandate listed in chapter 1 and they go to bed, only to find out God is sleeping the next day when they wake up.

The point of all of this is that the text itself describes ideas and concepts locally that have a measure of time built in to them, some of which seem to be quite a bit longer than 24 hours. This does not take one to billions of years, but it does free up reading strict 24 hour periods into the text.

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I think these are all valid points. However, as I explain above, interpreting “day” as longer than 24 hours does not ipso facto solve the problem.

You simply won’t find it in the text otherwise is my personal opinion. Most creation stories (when you add up the years literally only add up to several tens or hundreds of thousands of years). Interestingly enough, Hindu cosmology actually predicted the universe would repeat in 8.6 billion year cycles. That’s the only creation story that actually indicates billions of years literally.

All we can do as Christians is
a) free up the Genesis text to not mean 6-24 hour periods which reasonably can be done
b) perhaps argue that the laws of science can be used to determine age (like 2 Peter 3:4-all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation or maybe squinting at Jeremiah 33:25 and arguing that the laws of heaven and Earth are fixed)
c) can we argue that we are encouraged to study God’s natural world to learn more about Him? Sure

I don’t have any other ideas for you and want to apologize if I’ve personally come off as combative, condescending or any other of the 7Cs.


I think reversing the equation makes for more a acceptable, and even logically necessary, Biblically-consistent conclusion:

If you insist on taking Genesis 1, with its significant text-critical vulnerabilities, you literally have no Biblical method for rejecting the literal meaning of the Job text on ‘Snow’ and ‘Hail’. The Job text is comparatively more secure, being a direct quote from Yahweh to a living human witness, and being used to demonstrate the relative ignorance of Job compared to God. [How can Job’s ignorance be demonstrated by God implying that Job should know about imaginary heavenly storehouses of imaginary heavenly snow and imaginary heavenly hail?]

There are no Logical, Biblical or Text-Critical defenses for treating Genesis 1 the way you do without also treating the Job text the same way. What’s more, there is less reason to hold to a literal meaning since there are no human witnesses to this Six Day Creation, nor is the narrative of Genesis 1 written in a way that suggests humans should have known these details of the Six Days of Creation.

You are attempting to force a rejection of a figurative interpretation if there is not a one-for-one correspondence of every element of the figurative text . . . translating to some important Biblical meaning (veiled or otherwise).

Sometimes stories include figurative details that have no narrative intent other than to embellish the story.

Your approach is a thinly veiled attempt to make the requirements of a figurative interpretation so rigorous that it leaves only the literal interpretation. Nice debating tactic; but an overly muscular method of overly ambitious exegesis.

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Can you point to stories of this type elsewere in the Bible?

By the way, do you believe Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth?

Do you receive the Bible as God’s word written for us?

Personally, I don’t find the Exodus passages to be extremely convincing arguments for a young earth. If the usage of yom in Genesis is indeed referring to a longer period, I don’t think it is unreasonable for God’s instructions to be of symbolic nature.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV)

12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Exodus 31:12-17, ESV)

It is not unreasonable to think that God’s instructions for the day of rest could simply be symbolic of “God’s day of rest”, especially since we’ve agreed that God certainly did not need a recuperation day. It would be a little silly to insist that humans had an era/epoch of no work, but perfectly reasonable for God to instruct for a day of rest as a symbol.

A similar situation can be found in denominational beliefs about the sacrament. There are not many denominations that hold to Jesus’ literal words of “This is my body” and “This is my blood”.

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Mike, Think for a moment: Parables! Analogical, metaphorical, anecdotal, all aimed at getting a point across. Not to mention most of Revelation! Unless you believe an actual dragon is attacking a woman about to give birth in the sky!

Ray :sunglasses:

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I left that open as I had to run, but that is the issue. One way to look at is to ask how you can reconcile them. Can you interpret the physical evidence in such a way as to reconcile it with a literal historical interpretation? To me, the answer to that question is honestly no. Attempts to do so tend to twist both scripture and observations of creation into false statements. Can you interpret the Bible to find compatability with nature? Yes.