First, let me state up front that the Bible, no matter what else we may believe about it was written by men in cultures very different from our own. It is a production of the Church, written by believers for believers. Not until the 4th century was there any kind of recognized “Bible” and even then the list of books included in it were not always the same in every list. It was not until the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in the 16th century that there was a defined list of books. Protestants contested some of the books, mostly in the OT. The Bible was not given to us as some seem to think as a whole or complete revelation of God and his Word. This is a Moslem view of scripture which is incompatible with the Christian faith.
Second, it is imperative that we recognize that the ancients did not write their books in the same literary manner as modern writers. They did not, for one thing, see much distinction between simply telling a story to convey a theological truth and recording actual history.
Third, the creation account was originally an oral story passed down through the generations. It was not put into writing until the time of Moses; at least if it was we have no record of it and certainly no existing texts.
And, fourth, that the Bible is said to be ‘inspired’ is no license to demand that the text say what it does in fact not say. For example, we moderns know that the earth is round and revolves around the sun once every 365 days. Yet for thousands of years it was believed that the sun revolved around the earth once every 24 hours. This is reflected in the Scriptures. The earth is described as a ‘circle’ (note that a circle is VERY different from a sphere) and therefore flat; it is suspended and supported on ‘pillars’ etc… Furthermore, to the writers in the ancient world there was no distinction to be made between the nature of the sun and the moon. Both were great “lights’. But we know now that the moon is only a rock in space that reflects the light of the sun. This discovery would certainly have stunned the ancients.
At the time of Galileo, the Church had dogmatized the teaching that the earth was still and did not move based on the Psalm that reads “The earth cannot be moved”. It was an incredible embarrassment for the Church when Galileo pointed out that the earth really does move and the sun is more or less stationary. He was nearly burned at the stake for this. Galileo made a very insightful comment: “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” And this is the way of it.
We should not assume that ‘inspiration’ means absolute infallibility in every discipline of science. Jesus himself said the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds when in fact it is not. Did Jesus make a mistake? He must have if we take him literally or scientifically. Or, was Jesus simply making a point that something so small and insignificant could grow into something so large that all the birds of the air could nest in it’s branches?
The ancients did NOT know modern scientific truths and they therefore did not take them into account when writing the scriptures. God never intended them to because the message of the bible is not dependent on scientific proof. IT’s a message of faith. This is why science and the Bible are never going to be at odds. We may sometimes feel they are and they may sometimes seem to be…but ultimately they are in harmony.
So, the creation account, as I see it *could* be taken literally were it not for the current overwhelming scientific data that indicates the universe is billions of years old, that evolution is indeed a fact that we need to come to terms with, and the genetic data that there is no single common human ancestor from whom we all spring. Generations past took the account literally of course. But they did not have the data available to them that we have today. It does no one any good to stick our heads in the ground and ignore the scientific information we now have. Certainly not on the very shaky ground of ‘inspiration’.
My take on the creation story is that it is just that…a story. A story from the mists of time when our ancestors passed on to their children that God had made the world very good and yet something had gone terribly wrong. The very names Adam and Eve are not personal names. They are very very generic and full of symbolism. Adam is THE MAN and Eve is THE WOMAN. These are universal symbols for man and woman. At some point in history God caused man to be conscious of Himself. That point in history is Adam and Eve. In the beginning.