The other issue I have is with the interpretation of the seven days you provided. I don't see this passage as early man's observation of evolution as best they understood it. I certainly agree that it wasn't intended to be written as a piece of scientific writing or 100% history. You are right that this represents generations of oral tradition relating the history of pre-Abraham Hebrew life, and therefore I would argue that the purpose in writing this (the first 11 chapters of Genesis, though this seems to be focused on chapter 1 and 2) is to give a theological account of our world and its/our relationship with the God that created it/us.
It is therefore unsurprising that the days of creation are mapped out as they are from days 1-6. They form a neat poetic link between each other. One issue you seemed to bring up was about days 2 and 3 and how you think they may have needed to be reversed. I would argue that how it is written is exactly as it should be. You were trying to fit the story into some broad overview of how a primitive mind might expect to view evolution, but if we remove that assumption, then the days fit together nicely as is. My overview of the seven days would be as such:
Day 1 - God creates light
Day 2 - God separates the skies from the ocean
Day 3 - God separates water from land
Day 4 - God creates the sun and stars
Day 5 - God creates fish and birds
Day 6 - God creates animals, including mankind
Day 7 - God rests
There is a clear relationship between the first three days and the second three days of creation, hence why I left a line spaced between them. Notice how the first day in the first section is directly related to day 4 (the first day of the second set of three). Likewise Days 2 and 5, and days 3 and 6 are directly related. In short, the correlation is thus:
Day 1 and 4 - God first creates light and then creates the source of that light
Day 2 and 5 - God first creates the skies and the oceans, and then follows that with creating the animals that primarily live in the skies and the ocean.
Day 3 and 6 - God first creates the land, and then follows that by creating animals to live on the land.
Finally, God rests on day 7 - a nice number to end on for Hebrew symbolism, considering that the number 7 was representative of perfection and completion. Taking this into account it seems obvious that the text is written as intended. Day 2 and 3 are exactly where they should be, in order to keep the symmetry between the first three and second three sets of days.
It is likely that there were people on whom the stories of Genesis 1-11 were based, but through the course of many generations the Hebrews used them in their accounts not as scientific accounts of what happened but as I said, as theological approaches to our world and God. I do not think that the creation accounts represents early man's attempt to observe evolution (though on the balance of ideas I do believe that evolution is most likely the way by which our world developed, though with an intelligent process known as "God" that guided that process to intentionally create the world which we now live in).
Nor do I find contradiction in the accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. What we need to remember when reading our modern Bibles is that the chapter/verse breakdown as we have today did not exist. Nor do those headings which introduce new sections exist in the original. They are added in as supposedly helpful pointers but they often do the opposite and confuse matters. This is what I think has happened here. For example, this is how my current Bible separates the sections of Genesis 1-2:
In particular, the publishers decided to try and be "helpful" in separating verse 3 and 4 with a big bold heading titled "Adam and Eve". This gives the impression that a new train of thought has started. That chapter 1 right through to chapter 2:3 was one account of creation, and now comes an entirely new account prefaced with verse 4's "This is the account....". But a very very slight change can change the entire meaning of this section. As such:
All I did here was move the publishers heading forward half a verse. Now there is a massive difference in interpretation. Verse 4 is no longer the prologue to a new explanation of creation, but is instead now the conclusion to the first section - a final reminder that chapter 1 is the account of creation. Verse 4b-5 then begins a new section, saying that when God had made the heavens he then created the Garden of Eden in which he placed Adam and Eve. This is a more specific look not at overall creation as was Genesis 1:2-4 but only at one small section of that creation (Eden). It's only a very slight amendment to the headings, but I would argue that this is much more appropriate in understanding how the story fits together.
Putting everything together her, the logical conclusion is that the author was attempting to show us what our relationship with God is. Firstly that he IS the creator, and he was powerful enough to simply "speak" the world into existence ("And God said... and it was so"). This directly contrasts many of the other creation myths of those nations surrounding them. The Babylonian story of creation, for example, shows Marduk in a battle with Tiamat, and Marduk slices Tiamat in two, and the two halves separate and collect waters, one half becoming the earth and the oceans, the other half becoming the sky. The purpose of having a single God simply speak the world into existence without these fancy acts of deities battling was purposefully intended to set the Hebrew creation myth as different to everyone else's. It therefore stands to reason that it was NOT written as direct history, but instead to directly stand in opposition to the myths of other nations.
Secondly, the story (more generally now the entire Genesis 1-11) intends to convey how mankind left on its own slides further and further away from God. It is shown through three primary events - Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Each event represents a devolution in our relationship with God. First one man turns against God by killing his brother. Then in the Flood narrative the story shows that the thoughts of the people was "only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5). Then the total devolution of our relationship with God is encapsulated in the Tower of Babel and the desire to build a Temple to reach God. At this time it was believed that God dwelt in the heavens and that if we could build something tall enough to reach God then we could become God ourselves. So note the devolution of humanity from Genesis 4-11:
* One man sins against God (Cain murders Abel)
* Whole world sins against God (their thoughts were "only evil all the time")
* Finally the whole world wants to BE God (build a Temple to reach God on their own, without God's help).
These three stories combine to form an impressive diatribe against the human race. Left on our own we totally turned away from the creator and hit our lowest point. What these stories also show is that it is clearly not an historical account. History doesn't work this way. Sure, some individual events can escalate and climax this way - we see this in the fall of Gaddaffi in Lybia (being one example). But over the course of many generations there are rises and falls in fortunes, people turn to and from gods, do good and bad things. But these three events were chosen by the authors to paint this picture of humanity in a very specific way. And all in the purpose of setting up chapter 12 and the absolute necessity for which God had to institute a covenant with Abraham and elect him as the founder of the Hebrew race.
Sorry, I've kind of rambled a bit here. I had only intended to write a couple of paragraphs but thoughts just kept on piling on each other. Nevertheless, I think this is all information that may be helpful to you in your exploration of this topic. Once again I do thank you for your time in posting what you have. Welcome to UM and hopefully we'll get to see a bit more of you over time
~ Regards, PA
Nice response PA! I'll definitely keep that in mind for future discussions. That has got to be the best commentary I've read on the subject yet.