That was indeed my understanding of your purpose, and I think you've done a great job of concisely summarizing your purpose in the above. I also think that you introduced and have helped sustain a very productive thread that may be quite helpful for a lot of people who share your questions and wrestle with these complex topics. So even though these can be very challenging concepts to articulate accurately and in an easily comprehensible prose---and it is difficult to reduce entire books and long technical articles in academic journals to a few paragraphs---I do hope that the casual and spontaneous attempts at achieving such goals have shed at least a little new light on the topic. Having gone through a long and tedious path myself---from a anti-evolution YEC "creation science" enthusiast in the 1960's to what eventually would be called evolutionary creationism by the time I retired---I do hope I never give the thoughtless or discourteous impression that everybody should just "pay attention, hurry up, and get on board" the evolutionary creationism train. (If my posts give any impression of frustration with this topic, it is more about my frustration with myself in having difficulties effectively articulating a lot of complex ideas. In fact, one of the reasons I participate in discussion forums like this one is to learn better ways to explain these topics to inquirers.)
So I will say again that I appreciate everything you've shared and the fact that you've given us excellent and very meaty questions to tackle!
That said, I'll add to the stew yet another reason why I consider Genesis 1 not just another of the Bible's "historical narrative" pericopes. (Thankfully, this thread has not recycled any of the arguments of past forum debates on whether the Hebrew grammar of Genesis 1 demands that it be understood as a chronologically-ordered sequence of events.) I read Genesis 1 much like a poem or set of song lyrics appearing immediately after the title page of a book. Authors through the centuries have often used something well known to the audience to set the tone of a book and to provide a foundational framework for what follows.
So how does this help me to understand Genesis 1? In addition to the often emphasized 3+3 YOMs, A,B;B,A chiasm patterns, and parallelisms of the six-YOM creation account, the six-stanza hymnic structure seems inescapable. Each day's verse/stanza is followed by a rigidly formulaic, repeating chorus: "And the evening and the morning was the Nth YOM."
So whenever I read traditional Young Earth Creationist demands that Genesis 1 must be read according to the "plain and natural" meaning of "what is obviously a historical narrative of real events happening in the chronological order as they are presented in the text", I'm prone to point out that most narrative accounts in the Old Testament aren't written in a series of numbered stanzas followed by a simple repeating chorus.
I'll also interject my observation that "And the evening and the morning" is probably idiomatic. After all, a YOM/day in Semitic culture is not confined to an evening through the next morning. Instead, it strikes me as an idiomatic way to refer to "from start to finish" (as in the duration of a single night), much as sunset through sunrise can describe a single night. Otherwise, "the evening and the morning was the Nth day" doesn't really make sense in the context---because God didn't restrict his creative commands to the hours of darkness, from evening until the next morning! Thus, to even allow for a traditional YEC "plain and natural reading" of the text, "And the evening and the morning...." surely must be understood idiomatically.
Literally speaking, a Jewish day began at sunset and ended with the following evening's sunset. So even though I agree with traditional Young Earth Creationists that Genesis 1 is referring to YOM as a conventional 24 hour day, that doesn't have to mean that Genesis 1 has to be read as "the story of what happened during the universe's very first week as a summary of each day's events."
What if Genesis 1 was intended as a six-stanza HYMNIC TRIBUTE to the Creator. It would serve as a very appropriate introduction to the Genesis scroll, the first book of the Pentateuch which explains the beginnings of the Children of Israel. Instead of starting with the birth of Abraham or even the origins of the first Imago Dei creature("the Reddish-Soil Man", HAADAM), it goes back further. It tells us that God the Creator is so powerful that he could make the universe and everything in it in a single human workweek. (Does that sound like something a poet or song-writer might do?) So a hymn to that Creator which assigns separate "sovereignty domains" to each numbered day and its verse makes for a strong contrast with the pantheons of gods and goddesses of Israel's neighbors, where each deity's power is confined to a single domain. (In those nearby cultures, a particular god rules the fish of the sea, while another god governs the beasts of the fields. Some goddess may rule the moon or even be the moon.)
The Genesis 1 text may have existed in those exact words for many centuries before it was consolidated with other texts---and that separately written text or similar outline may have existed for many centuries and have gone through a number language versions before being written in Hebrew. Or perhaps the six-stanza creation hymn had existed as a well known oral tradition(s) for many centuries before being chosen by the Genesis author as a suitable introduction to the first book of the Pentateuch. Or perhaps it was heavily edited and reworked to where it was unrecognizable.
Yet, we don't have to know those details before deciding how to interpret (and not interpret) the text. Because God is omniscient and not bound by time, it is not difficult to imagine that God decided
to describe himself as building a universe using concepts familiar to time-bound humans, both ancient and modern humans. So God placed his creative "acts" into the convenient outline of seven-day week. In actual fact, an omnipotent God didn't need six days nor did he need evenings and mornings. But seeing how it is impossible to write a TRULY LITERAL description of a supernatural being doing such impossible-for-humans, supernatural things from the "first person perspective" of a deity who exists outside of the time dimension of the matter-energy universe which he himself created, Genesis 1 had to be one-big-accommodation to the limitations of the human mind and human languages. And it is! For that reason, I find it extremely difficult to read Genesis 1 "very literally", just as I don't read passages where Jesus is a shepherd "very literally".
Mike, I would be curious to know if you find the Hymnic Tribute view of Genesis 1 to be at all helpful in considering why this text need not be viewed as conflicting with origins science. And suppose scholars made some amazing discovery which confirmed that Genesis 1 was based on an oral tradition that had been well known within the culture for many centuries---and perhaps was even sung as a worship hymn where the soloist chanted or sung the six "verses" and an entire choir sang the chorus: "And the evening and the morning was the Nth day." Do you think that that would or should change "the plain and natural reading of the text" as understood by many fundamentalists and evangelicals? [Personally speaking, I don't know if it would have much impact on the average American Bible Belt Christian. But the question fascinates me.]
Now, with all that said, I'll reiterate for those who have just now joined this thread: I have no problems harmonizing Genesis 1 through 5 with what I know of evolutionary biology, paleontology, and geology. And I don't have to discard or disrespect any scripture to say that. I find God's revelations in his creation and in his scripture to fit together in ways that no longer frustrate me, though it took me a lot of study, especially in the original languages.
** A FOOTNOTE FOR THOSE WHO CARE **
This is another TANGENTIAL EXCURSUS due to heavy medication:
Just to make an important point again: English authors and readers tend to think that order-of-presentation in a text necessarily conveys order of chronology, especially when numbered. But not all languages and cultures assume that bias.
And cultural biases as to priorities and perspectives are also reflected in things like systems of inflection. I've already mentioned that Hebrew verb inflections in themselves don't necessarily communicate past, present, and future, because they didn't consider time relationships a high priority when communicating. And some languages with a different set of priorities use extremely complex inflection systems which constantly remind everyone the superior/equal/inferior social caste relationships of everyone involved in every sentence! English lost most of the last vestiges of that in the pronoun distinctions a few centuries ago--when the informal thou/thee/thy dropped out and the formal you/your got applied to everybody. (I can't resist mentioning that the eldest of my Board of Elders at my first church used to exhort me to always address God in my public prayers with the pronouns thee/thou/thine "because it is more respectful than using 'you' when speaking to God." I probably took a bit too much delight in explaining to him that he had the archaic formal/informal distinctions backwards! I don't know if he felt frustrated or deflated when I told him that thee/thy/thou/thine were at one time restricted to very informal settings and addressing one's children and closest friends of the same social class. YOU/YOUR were important in formal contexts, such as addressing the king and one's social betters. The man never changed his "prayer pronouns", but he did stop complaining about mine---at least in my presence!)
I've always been fascinated by these kinds of differences in languages and cultures. I've found that even many of my non-academic audiences, such as Sunday School classes and home Bible study groups, have enjoyed learning about these linguistic topics---especially when I explain how it impacts the work of Bible translators on the mission field today and in the history of English Bible translations.
I try to make sure that all of my students, in both academic and non-academic settings, come away with at least a little understanding of why a dogmatic insistence on "the plain and natural reading" of a given Bible passage can be an almost humorously presumptuous folly---especially when reading an English translation of a Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament text (or a Greek Testament text) without a realization that translator(s) have probably already resolved the most difficult ambiguities in the text and chose which "plain and natural reading" the English Bible reader will think is so obvious from the text. For example, every time the KJV translators used EARTH instead of LAND for the Hebrew word ERETZ in the early chapters of Genesis, they nearly-forever established a "natural bias" that would lead millions of English Bible readers to assume that EARTH referred to "planet earth" rather than "earth, the opposite of sky" or "the ground" and what a farmer tills. That bias is so strong that even modern day Bible translation committees tend to relegate "or LAND" to the translation footnotes at the bottom of the page. Otherwise the new translation would be DOA (dead on arrival) in the very competitive English Bible translation marketplace!