Som people believe that if you are an evangelical, then you must believe that God created the earth and the entire universe in a six day period of time, about 6,000 – 10,000 years ago. In addition, you must believe that the entire universe was also created 6,000 – 10,000 years ago. This view is known as young-earth creation, and it is certainly popular with many evangelicals.
However, it is not true that this is the only position that evangelicals take. There are several other positions, such as the literary-framework view, revelatory-day view, alternate-day-age view, and gap theory.
Perhaps the leading contender to the young-earth view, among evangelicals, is the old-earth or progressive creation view. Proponents of old-earth creation view the events in Genesis 1 and 2 as real, historical occurrences, but they interpret the “days” in Genesis as long periods of time. They endorse the findings of geology, astronomy, and physics, which date the earth at about 4.5 billion years old and the entire universe at about 13.8 billion years old.
Some evangelicals dismiss old-earth creation (truth be told, many aren’t even aware of it) because they believe it does not interpret Genesis literally, but that is not the case. A literal interpretation simply means that a person interprets the meaning of a writing as the original author intended, taking into account the literary style and structure of the writing.
For example, almost all evangelical scholars believe that the events depicted in Genesis were written in the form of historical narrative, and not in the form of mythology or allegory. Writers of mythology and allegory often provide clear textual queues that indicate those genres. The text of Genesis, however, reads like a historical narrative.
Many well-known evangelical scholars, who believe that the creation events of Genesis are part of a historical narrative, have interpreted the “days” in Genesis as long periods of time, and not 24-hour days. It is simply not true to claim that young-earth creationists are the only ones interpreting Genesis literally. There are several possible literal interpretations of Genesis 1-2, and young-earth creation represents one of those possible interpretations.
There is a further point that needs making. The age of the earth is not an issue that divides Christian from non-Christian. It does not determine anyone’s salvation. All of the views mentioned above assert that God created the universe in a supernatural way and that He created the first human beings in a supernatural way. So let’s keep these disagreements in perspective.