Question of the week: What are the scientific dates for start and end times for each of the six days of creation in Genesis 1?
My answer: These dates depend on how one interprets the events described in the six days of creation. Also, for some of the events described in the Genesis creation days only very rough scientific dates have been determined.
I believe a reasonable interpretation of creation day 1 is the Spirit of God hovering above Earth’s primordial waters to create photosynthetic life some time after God had transformed Earth’s atmosphere from opaque to translucent. We have a reasonably accurate date for the origin of photosynthetic life. It is 3.825±0.006 billion years ago. The date for the transformation of Earth’s atmosphere from opaque to translucent depends on how one defines translucent. Depending on the definition it could range from 4.47 to 3.83 billion years ago.
Creation day 2 is when God establishes a complex, stable, water cycle. How one interprets complex and stable will affect the date for this event. The start date would be some time after 3.8 billion years ago. The end date would be some time before 2.45 billion years ago.
In a blog I wrote in 2018 I described a scientific breakthrough that established at the time of the Great Oxygenation Event the continental landmass coverage of Earth’s surface suddenly jumped from less than 2% to more than 26%.1 This breakthrough indicates that creation day 3 began 2.45–2.32 billion years ago. The earliest known date for vegetation covering the landmasses is 1.2 billion years ago.2 It is likely that vegetation existed on landmasses previous to 1.2 billion years. Exactly what the biblical text means by vegetation covering the landmass is unclear. Hence, the end of day 3 is not clearly defined.
Creation day 4 is when God transforms Earth’s atmosphere from always translucent to being at least intermittently transparent so that when God creates animals on day 5 they will be able to see the positions of the Sun, Moon, and stars in the sky and use those positions to regulate their biological clocks. In another blog I wrote in 2018 I showed how a team of physicists determined that the second great oxygenation event transformed Earth’s atmosphere from a dense haze into a transparent sky.3 This event coincided with the Great Unconformity, a geological upheaval that occurred about 580 million years ago.
Creation day 5 begins with God creating the first animals. The first known animals to appear are those that belong to the first Avalon explosion which dates to about 575 million years ago. The first and second Avalon explosions are followed by the more dramatic Cambrian explosion that began 543 million years ago. Creation day 5 also describes God creating birds and sea mammals. The first known sea mammals appear about 65 million years ago. However, it is possible that some sea mammals appeared several million years earlier.
Creation day 6 describes God creating three subcategories of land mammals, those that are most critical for helping humans to launch civilization. It is not exactly clear which land mammals the biblical text refers to. Therefore, the date for the beginning of creation day 6 could range from 10–65 million years ago. Creation day 6 ends with God creating the first humans, Adam and Eve. The coming together of four known rivers in the Garden of Eden implies that God created Adam and Eve sometime during an ice age, most likely the last ice age, which dates 15,000–130,000 years ago. However, the biblical text does not eliminate the possibility of God creating Adam and Eve in the ice age previous to the last one. Thus, the end of creation day 6 occurred between 15,000–250,000 years ago.